Some starts matter more than others.
The Minnesota Timberwolves’ 47-point first quarter against the Los Angeles Lakers Sunday night was good for a spot in the Timberwolves record books, and their 5-2 record is among the most significant in the NBA.
Minnesota’s five victories are more meaningful (if less surprising) than Phoenix’s five, because Minnesota’s record is more likely to hold up. (For one thing, the Suns are 4-0 at home. If the percentages don’t catch up to them, the schedule will).
The two teams ahead of Minnesota in the Western Conference, San Antonio (6-10 and Oklahoma City (5-1), are simply continuing last season’s success. The undefeated Indiana Pacers look like they’re vying to take the logical next step from Eastern Conference Finals appearance. For the Timberwolves, who haven’t had a winning record since 2004-05, these early weeks are a chance to establish themselves as legitimate playoff contenders. And they’ve done so.
It sounded overly simple when Ricky Rubio said, “We don’t want to be a losing team” but it’s critical for this group to institute that mentality now. He, Rubio, and Love have never had winning seasons in the NBA. Corey Brewer, who was drafted by the Timberwolves in 2007, learned what winning was like while playing in Denver the past two years, and he returned to Minnesota this year with a mandate.
“I told everybody we need to get seven out of the first 10,” Brewer said. “That should be our goal.”
They’re on track, with a game against the Clippers in L.A. Monday night followed by a home game against Cleveland and a road game in Denver.
Even though, the Timberwolves had lost 22 consecutive games to the Lakers and hadn’t beaten them in Los Angeles since 2005, the Timberwolves had to feel confident they were a better team than this version of the Lakers. They didn’t wait to prove it over the course of 48 minutes. This game felt decided by the time the Laker Girls came out for their first routine. The Timberwolves made 16 of their first 20 shots, and seven of their first eight 3-pointers and led by 24 points after one quarter.
“You can tell they were ready to play,” Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman said.
And you can tell this team was ready for the season, to finally see what it would be like with Love and Rubio playing together instead of one (or both) sidelined by injuries the way they’ve been the past two years.
They have a top-five scoring offense and impact players. Love is second in the league in scoring and first in rebounding. Rubio leads the league in steals; he can disrupt the multitude of great point guards he’ll face in addition to running an offense himself. He hit the Lakers with a triple-double Sunday night (12 points, 14 assists, 10 rebounds, plus five steals).
They’re 5-2, and look every bit the part.