The Timberwolves return home to Target Center Wednesday from their season’s longest road trip, a five-game journey that took them to Utah, Portland, Phoenix, Sacramento and Denver and brought home with four victories.
They do so with a game against New York knowing this: They haven’t done anything yet.
The Wolves have won six of their past seven games and are back over .500 at 30-29 for the first time since the end of January, but they still trail Phoenix for the Western Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot by 4½ games with just 23 left to play.
They play 14 of those final 23 games at home, including nine of the next 14 games with an opening four-game set that brings the Knicks, Detroit, Toronto and Milwaukee to town.
Toronto is the only one of those four teams with a winning record.
“We know what it’s all about,” Wolves coach Rick Adelman said. “We have to come with big efforts, each game. It doesn’t matter. Everybody says the Knicks have been struggling. I just see them with [Carmelo] Anthony and J.R. Smith and [Tyson] Chandler, and they still have a pretty decent team. We have to go out and play.
“We’re back over .500 now going back home, and we have to take advantage of it. If you’re going to try and make a move, you have to win these games. And the first one is with New York coming in. You can’t think about the other ones at all. You can only think about the first one.”
Every loss from now on likely will put the Wolves further behind.
They kept pace Monday by withstanding Denver’s furious comeback attempt in the final minute after the Wolves led by as many as 23 points in the third quarter. The Nuggets made four three-pointers in the final 23 seconds that reduced a nine-point deficit down to just two points with five seconds left.
But the Wolves made 20 of their 26 free throws in the fourth quarter when the Nuggets were forced to foul. Shooting guard Kevin Martin went 8-for-8 in the final 27 seconds on a night when his team shot a franchise-record 64 free throws and made a record 52 of them.
Those free throws were the difference between a 4-1 road trip and a 3-2 record, and that difference is what Martin called “major” in a game he termed a “must-win.”
“You don’t have too many must-wins in the beginning of March,” Martin said. “But we understand where we’re at right now and guys had the mindset of we had to do anything we had to do to get a win.”
The easy way
Martin scored 16 of his 22 points Monday at the free-throw line and went 10-for-10 in the fourth quarter alone when the Nuggets fouled repeatedly hoping somebody would miss.
When he was asked afterward if those were the easiest 22 points of his life, he said, “Yeah, usually when you go to the free-throw line 17 times you take a beating. But I didn’t take a beating with those free throws. … It was one of those games where they were trading three points for two. I was glad we were the ones shooting the free throws and not the other team.”
Nothing like it
No Wolves team had come close to shooting — and making — as many free throws as the Wolves did Monday night.
Adelman had never seen anything like it, either.
“Not really,” Adelman said when asked if he could ever remember being in a game where one team shot 64 free throws. “But I think good ball movement will do that, and we were attacking the basket. They were fouling us at the end. That’s a lot, but I’ll take it. I don’t remember a team hitting threes at the end like they did, either.”