Kevin Love, the only player left on the Timberwolves roster from his rookie season of 2008-09, is enjoying his fourth NBA season much more than his previous three. The All-Star forward talked about what a change the team's situation is compared to his first three seasons, when the Wolves went a combined 56-190 -- under 19 victories per season on average.

"Very tough. Words cannot even describe it," said Love, who likely will sign a five-year, $80 million contract before Wednesday, a signing that has been held up while club owner Glen Taylor is out of town.

"Twenty-four wins my first year, I thought we were going to be looking up from there, went to 15 wins, then went up two wins to 17, which wasn't saying much," Love said last week at Target Center, days before he hit his dramatic winning three-pointer Friday night to beat the Clippers in Los Angeles. "It wasn't a happy locker room, wasn't a happy organization. The fact that we are getting better and improvement is showing, it feels good. It feels worthwhile putting in the work.

"We definitely have something to be happy about. We just want to keep this thing going as much as we can. The more wins we can lock up, the better."

Love talked about some tough times in the past, but he's excited about this season, as the Wolves have shown steady improvement. They haven't been at .500 in the standings at any point after the opening handful of games since 2006-07, when coach Dwane Casey was fired despite a 20-20 record.

Besides the Wolves' abysmal record in Love's first three seasons, more disheartening has been their disastrous starts to seasons, removing any thoughts of having a successful finish. The past three seasons, the Wolves have reached a record of 1-2 following three games -- twice they won their opener, once they won the second game of the year -- but in each season that was as close as they would be to .500 for the rest of the year, as long losing streaks piled up early in each season, something this squad has been able to avoid so far.

"This is my fourth year, and there's been a lot of ups and downs for me," Love said. "I've struggled on the floor, struggled on the defensive end, struggled on the offensive end, struggled off the court to adjust to certain things in the NBA.

"I had to come off the bench my second year when I didn't necessarily agree with it. But I kept fighting and kept getting better, summer after summer."

Won a close one

One thing the Wolves hadn't been able to do before Friday was win close games. Before the stunning result against the Clippers, all their victories had been by at least seven points; of their first eight defeats, five were by four points or fewer.

"There's been games this season where we were right there, we could have won, things could have gone our way," Love said.

"We could be over a .500 record right now, a winning record right now. I think things are definitely looking up for us. But like you mentioned, I've gone through a lot of hard times but now we have to start turning that corner and really start winning."

Love, who entered Saturday night ranking fifth in the league in scoring at 24.7 points per game and second in rebounding at 14.5 per game -- the only player in the NBA to rank in the top five of both categories -- said his confidence is at an all-time high.

"I'm definitely confident in myself," he said. "The more opportunities that I have, the more confidence that my teammates and the organization and the coaching staff has in me, I'm going to continue to keep getting better. I'm just scratching the surface now, but I am feeling like I'm playing well out there."

Yes, it's amazing to think that two seasons ago, coach Kurt Rambis wasn't starting him and there was even talk of trading Love.

Aiming for London Olympics

Love is a finalist for the United States Olympic men's basketball team that will compete this summer in London. He talked about Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who coached Love in the FIBA world championships last year.

"He's big for me, for the world championship team. It was very big for me to be a part of that," Love said. "Hopefully when they dwindle [the Olympic roster] down to 12 or 13 players I'll still be mentioned in that group. We were very successful as a unit with [USA Basketball Chairman] Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski, like you said. I'm really hoping that I can work as hard as I possibly can."

Love would be honored to compete for his country again.

"This is the tryout, this condensed season, these 66 games. Every day is an opportunity to prove to them what I can do, so hopefully I'll be heading over to London. ... I think the Olympics weigh heavily with me and to be a part of that -- after the Redeem Team won in 2008 -- to be a part of that unit would definitely be a very big deal for me and it'd be a huge thing in my career. That would be a tremendous honor."


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• When Jerry Kill took over as Gophers football coach, he found a squad with some academic problems. Kill was worried he would lose a lot of players who wouldn’t make it academically. But last semester, 68 players had a 3.0 grade-point average or better, resulting in an overall team GPA of 3.01. In addition, 23 of the 25 Gophers teams had a 3.0 GPA or better; the overall GPA for all Gophers athletes, men’s and women’s, was a fantastic 3.21.

• Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman said the knee injury to running back Toby Gerhart in the season finale vs. Chicago was not serious and won’t need surgery.

• The fact that Gophers football senior Troy Stoudermire was awarded a sixth year of eligibility makes Trevor Mbakwe, who recently had knee surgery, optimistic he will get a sixth year on the basketball court, too.

Trent Baalke, the 49ers GM who brought in coach Jim Harbaugh, is a graduate of Bemidji State. Baalke was a two-time All-NSIC linebacker. After graduating, he began his coaching career at North Dakota State in 1989.

• Baseball America says that infielder Miguel Sano is the best Twins prospect since Joe Mauer. Ray Smith, who has managed the Twins’ Elizabethton team since 1987, said the only two players who have come through the rookie Appalachian League and produced a similar sound off their bat are Mauer and Texas star Josh Hamilton.