Originally Published: March 5, 2014

1. Will .500 Wolves Avoid 10th Straight Lottery?

By Zach Harper | TrueHoop Network

MINNEAPOLIS -- Whether anybody within the Minnesota Timberwolves organization is willing to admit it or not, the proverbial clock is ticking toward the summer of 2015. It's not as dire of a situation as some may claim because Kevin Love is much more focused on getting his team to the playoffs this season and next season, rather than weighing contract offers that legally can't be presented for another 16 months.

The Wolves are looking to get to the playoffs this season, not because they're worried about retaining Love's services after his current contract, but also because they're a professional basketball team that would like to make a seemingly elusive appearance in the postseason. With 23 games left in a frustrating and disappointing season heading into Wednesday's matchup with the New York Knicks, a victory over a struggling laughingstock was supposed to be a likely scenario.

Brad Rempel/USA TODAY SportsKevin Love and the Wolves are sitting at .500, five full games out of the final West playoff berth.

Instead, the Wolves dropped another frustrating loss in all-too-familiar fashion with a 118-106 home loss.

"We came off a long road trip, we knew we had to bring energy from the start," Love said after the loss. "But it seemed like all night they hit a lot of shots and got what they wanted."

This team has struggled all season long with bringing energy in the first half of games they need to make a statement in. They let a downtrodden Knicks team exploit that lack of energy and a season-long shaky defense in the first 24 minutes before making a charge in the third quarter. It was a charge that was quickly answered with a 15-2 run by the Knicks to open the first six minutes of the fourth.

This stretch was possibly the death knell of the Wolves' 2013-14 campaign, as they couldn't take advantage of losses by the Dallas Mavericks and Memphis Grizzlies on the same night, and stand five games out of the West's final No. 8 seed.

"Well, every loss [is damaging], but it doesn't mean anything," Wolves coach Rick Adelman said after the game. "Other teams are losing. We're behind them, but we can't give in to say, 'Well, this is a killer.'

"I don't worry about, 'Is this really damaging?' I worry about the way we played. I worry about the way we're going to play against Detroit. That's what I worry about now. Can these guys respond and get back at it on Friday and win that game?"

That's where the Wolves have found themselves all season long. They've dropped games they're supposed to claim as their bounty, only to have to circle the wagons and figure out how to change their course, which is headed for a 10th straight lottery appearance. It's a routine they should have figured out by now, but still have to solve as games tick off the calendar. The Wolves had playoff aspirations coming into the season, but find themselves as a .500 team with only 22 games remaining and multiple hurdles to jump.

Is this roster, with a seemingly healthy amount of talent, really as good/bad as the team's .500 record after 60 games?

"I can't answer that until the season is over with," Adelman said. "I really can't. We're a .500 team right now but we just won six out of seven on the road, so it's really hard to answer that. I think we'll be able to judge that at the end of the year, but right now I've got to figure that we're not a .500 team.

"We've got to continue to win games. We're also not head and heels above the teams we're playing. A lot of times you look at teams' records, you look at [the Knicks'] record, they're 21-40 coming in here. I don't look at that record, I look at the players."

The players the Knicks were able to use against the Wolves definitely played above their record. Carmelo Anthony scored 33 points and seemed to get whatever shot he wanted on the floor. Tyson Chandler recorded 15 points, 14 rebounds and helped keep Love to just one point on 0-for-6 shooting in the second half. The ghost of the 2012-13 Knicks haunted the 2013-14 Wolves on Wednesday by hitting 11-of-27 from 3-point range and turning the ball over only 12 times.

It was the way the Knicks are supposed to play against a Wolves team that is also supposed to be better and building toward the postseason. Instead, Minnesota once again has to regroup and figure out how to improve their future standing in a competitive Western Conference.

"My feeling is we're not a .500 team," Adelman explained. "But we say it all the time. We've got to go out and prove it. That's the bottom line. You can't talk about it, you've got to go out and do it."

Once again, the Wolves weren't able to do it as the clock continues to tick.

Zach Harper's work appears regularly on A Wolf Among Wolves, part of the TrueHoop Network.

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