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Timberwolves tucking tail toward mid-season

After three years of having the privilege to cover Minnesota Twins baseball, I've tried to pepper my first year writing about the Timberwolves with a balanced mix of hope and reality.

But after the team's Tuesday night loss to the Spurs (their 16th-consectuive defeat to that staple of NBA success), I departed Target Center struggling not to attach a "less" suffix to the "hope" measure.

Next week I'll provide a more in-depth analysis of the Wolves' struggles to re-establish NBA respectability as they reach the true half-point of this 2010-11 campaign -- but herein you'll find more numbness than numbers. At 9-30, the Wolves entered Thursday with the league's third-worst record. With a lowly win clip of .231, only barren Cleveland (8-30) and sanguine/suspect Sacramento (8-28) owned poorer percentages and fewer wins.

As I've noted throughout these last months, the Wolves' organization deserves genuine applause for the following reasons: admitting with unveiled candor that their record would be poor; creating cost-efficient reasons for folks to trudge to downtown Minneapolis in the dead of winter; and offering truly entertaining in-arena and new-media spots and videos.

And it's not as though a sub-.500 record was unexpected for this crew. With the league's youngest team and (another) revamped roster, there was no expectation entering this season that the Wolves could win more than 30 games after finishing with a mere 15 last season.

Back in mid-November, I had the pleasure of watching Kevin Love's historic 31 point/31 rebound night in the Wolves' 112-103 win over the Knicks. The victory gave the Wolves back-to-back wins and improved their record to 3-7. Love's maniacal effort made him a national hoop figure, an esteem he has sustained with a spectacular season that finds him leading the league in rebounding (15.8 per) by a wide margin while also scoring over 21 points per game.

During that contest and after the win -- there was an unquestionable vibe in both the arena and the locker room; something near-tangible that echoed of true hope, progress, growth, and, again, an untouchable but very real and potent vibe.

Yet on Tuesday night, as the Wolves hosted the NBA's top team before an announced 11,209

fans (maybe), there was nary a whisper of Love's 20 point/20 board effort. Rather, the storyline that evolved was the five technical fouls called in a 10-second span of third-quarter clock time by St. Paul native Ken Mauer.

The techs (and coach Kurt Rambis's ejection) were surely notable because of their flurry, yet after the smoke cleared and the Wolves lost for the sixth time in seven games, all that really remained in Target Center was a greasy frustration. Adding to the dejection: an atypically gloomy Michael Beasley limped into the locker room after having re-injured his already hobbled left ankle and appeared closer to attending a wake than playing in Thursday's set against Washington.

A few weeks back, when comparing the differences between losing with a young team in Portland and experiencing the same recipe here, Wolves forward Martell Webster told me:

"A lot of emotions. There's been a lot of losing, and there's been a lot of emotion about it. It hasn't been like we've rolled over, like, 'Oh, we've got another game.' Guys have been mad; guys have been upset at losses. Especially with the key, close losses that we've had. We've learned from those things."

But there's an emotional difference between "frustration" and "anger," and Tuesday eve offered more of the former. And a real danger exists there: Anger can evolve toward a rallying point, while frustration can descend into just pure muck.

Looking at the Wolves' schedule in March and April, there looks to be a host of games that they can win against young teams with similar growing pains or versus older squads that they should outrun in late season. Yet at their present pace, the Wolves will finish the season with a mere 19 wins.

"They know who they are; we're still trying to figure out who we are," Rambis said at Tuesday's postgame presser, referencing the Spurs/Wolves contrast through clenched teeth.

At this rate, coach, we all are.


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