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The Wolves are making strides

April 7, 2008

by Jesse Menden

Last Sunday, I had the opportunity of taking in my first Minnesota Timberwolves game in about four years. After searching for every excuse not to go, I came up empty and decided to make the trek down to the Target Center.

The game was billed as the “Wild West Showdown.” It featured Utah, one of the better teams in the Western Conference, against the T-Wolves, who are one of the worst.

Running with the theme, the Target Center concourses were filled with hay bales and half of the crowd was wearing cowboy hats. However, they took my pistol at the door – what is a showdown without a pistol?

With dueling banjos, a lot of country music, and random farm noises playing over the speaker, the game commenced, and remarkably, the game was actually a showdown of sorts.

Through three quarters of the game, the biggest lead by either team was six points. But the Wolves went on a 13-4 run at the beginning of the fourth quarter to go up nine points and win 110-103. The Wolves improved their record to 19-53.

Utah was without two of their better players, Andrei Kirilenko and Mehmet Okur, but the outcome was nice to see. To start the season, the Wolves lost eight of 13 games when they led heading into the fourth quarter. The team is maturing as they have won their past four when having the lead heading into the final frame.

Because I have had to watch a lot of paint dry recently, I haven’t been able to take in a complete Wolves’ game on television, so it was nice to watch them live and in person, and see exactly where this team is at.

Even from the upper deck, Al Jefferson was impressive. Many people downplay his numbers – he ranks 21st in the league at 21 points per game and fifth in rebounding with 11.4 – in part, because he is one of the lone guys on the team with great talent. But that belief seems to be unfair.

The 6-foot-10, 256-pound post player is big and quick. Jefferson has the ability to get in deep and make some moves.

And when he gets near the basket, he rarely misses with that one-handed shot. Jefferson is the one player that has been consistently solid this season.

There seems to be little doubt that the Wolves can build around the 23-year-old.

Sunday was a coming out party of sorts for rookie Corey Brewer. The 6-foot-9 forward got the start and rewarded head coach Randy Whittman with a career-high 16-point effort.

That performance was clearly a high point in the ex-Florida Gator’s season. Brewer’s shooting has struggled mightily – he is shooting just 37 percent from the floor, and 17 percent from behind the 3-point arc.

Brewer has not given the Wolves exactly what they were expecting when they drafted him. Sunday, he got his points almost entirely on lay ups and dunks. He clearly has a ton of athletic ability. He just needs to make more mid-range shots, which may come when he becomes more comfortable.

However, the bottom line in the NBA is you have to be able to score (or grab 20 rebounds a game like former Bull Dennis Rodman) to stay in the league.

At least for one game, a couple of other Wolves stood out against the Jazz. Back-up Rashad McCants poured in 16 points, including a several shots down the stretch. His final basket, a cold-blooded 22-footer with just 16 seconds left, gave the Wolves a 106-100 lead and essentially sealed the win.

Kirk Snyder, Ryan Gomes, and Marko Jaric also showed flashes of good play, especially at the end of the game.

Whether those guys can be intricate parts of a winning team is still up in the air.

There is no doubt, it is much easier to watch the Wolves right now than it was in the first two months of the season, when they earned just four wins.

Because they have played better, the Wolves are hurting their potential draft position. After Tuesday’s loss to Detroit, the Wolves had the fifth-worst record in the league. With just a handful of games remaining, it appears the best they could do is probably third-worst.

But that is okay.

With the lottery, the organization could still get the top pick. And considering the struggles on the court earlier this season, winning and playing well at the end of the season can do nothing but help the organization.