Timberwolves President Flip Saunders believes his team really has improved its chances at making the playoffs thanks to its current road trip. The Wolves are 3-1 going into the final game of the road trip, at Denver on Monday.
Saunders also believes that the Nuggets game is huge, and it could be the kind of game that is the difference in making or missing the playoffs.
“Over our next 10 games we’re probably going to be favored in nine of those games,” Saunders said Sunday.
“If we can take care of business and beat the teams that we’re supposed to beat, especially at home, I think we’re going to see some excitement come here in March and April.”
The Wolves are 10th in the West. At 29-29, they have five more losses than the Warriors and Suns and four more losses than the Mavericks and Grizzlies.
“We have to keep on winning games,” Saunders said. “I believe you’re probably going to have to win 45-46 games, right in that range, to make it. Depending on who you’re going against, if you have the tiebreaker, that could also be huge, too.
“The biggest thing that we have is we still play Phoenix, we still play Memphis twice, those are two teams we’re catching, we also have Dallas again, and if we beat them at their place we would have a tiebreaker with them, which would be huge.
“It’s going to be very interesting coming down the stretch here, but also very exciting. We have a stretch where if we take care of business in our schedule, we can actually make a run here and make it very interesting in the next six, seven weeks in a playoff-type of run. Our main thing is to put ourselves into position to play games that really matter down the stretch, and so we’re fighting for a playoff spot.”
Speaking of winning big games, the victory Saturday at Sacramento was clinched when Ricky Rubio, a 34.7 percent three-point shooter, knocked down a three with 53 seconds to play to increase the Wolves’ lead to seven.
“You know what’s really funny is that at 34 percent he’s shooting better from beyond the three than he is inside the three,” said Saunders, who pointed out that the point guard has improved his performance in the fourth quarter of late.
“Down the stretch in the games that he has played in the fourth quarter recently, he has made good decisions and either made a big shot or a big assist,” Saunders said. “It was good to see something for him that could be a big confidence-booster. I saw right away, Kevin Love went up to him and rubbed his head and encouraged him and you like to see that in those two type of players, to help each other out.”
This will be a key stretch for the Wolves in the next two weeks. They started the season with one of the toughest schedules in the NBA and got into a hole because of it. They need to win the upcoming games they are supposed to win if they want a chance at grabbing the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference.
If they can win their next seven games: at Denver; at home against New York, Detroit, Toronto and Milwaukee; at Charlotte and at home against Sacramento, the Wolves should be in a very competitive spot before four huge games against the teams they are chasing: at Dallas, at Houston, at home against Phoenix and at Memphis.
Will miss practice
One reason Gophers coach Jerry Kill decided to split spring football practice, going six practices before spring break and nine after, is so that if a player gets hurt in the initial sessions, he might heal in time for the second part.
Kill also has a number of players who likely will miss both sessions, including those who had offseason surgery: tight end Alex Bisch, fullback Tyler Hartmann, offensive lineman Jon Christenson and defensive back Derrick Wells.
Christenson, who did a great job at center last year, is going through a very difficult recovery from a broken leg, but amazingly the Gophers staff believes he could be ready for the first game of the season.
Then you also have players who likely will be limited in practice, such as defensive back Briean Boddy-Calhoun, offensive linemen Caleb Bak and Joe Bjorklund and defensive lineman Yoshoub Timms.
• ESPN college basketball reporter Joe Lunardi, who predicts the NCAA tournament field, had the Gophers making it as of Sunday. The Gophers are 47th in the Ratings Percentage Index and have the third-strongest strength of schedule in the nation. Coming into Sunday they were just two spots behind Iowa, ranked 45th, in the RPI.
• Gophers men’s basketball coach Richard Pitino is recruiting Anas Osama Mahmoud, a 7-1 center from Egypt playing at West Oaks Academy in Orlando. Osama Mahmoud visited Rick Pitino at Louisville and his son at Minnesota. He has also visited Georgia Tech, Auburn, Kentucky and Cincinnati.
• The Gophers football team still is recruiting outstanding three-star Columbus, Ind., running back Markell Jones, who visited this past weekend.
• Twins President David St. Peter reports that to date, the club has sold more than 1.5 million tickets for the 2014 season. There are still choice tickets available for the April 7 home opener with Oakland. … Twins single tickets went on sale Feb. 22 and the best-selling games have been for the July 3-6 series with the Yankees, when great shortstop Derek Jeter will play his final games at Target Field, with his retirement coming at the end of this season. … Speaking of ticket sales, the Twins have sold more than 100,000 tickets for their spring training games. … The Twins continue to explore the Dominican Republic and Venezuela for talent and will explore building facilities in both areas.
• Henry Ellenson of Rice Lake, Wis. — the younger brother of Wally Ellenson, who gave up his Gophers basketball scholarship to concentrate on high jumping for track and field — could wind up at Duke.
• Sydney Moss, daughter of former Vikings receiver Randy Moss, set a women’s Division III scoring mark when she scored 63 points for Thomas More College in a victory over Waynesburg in a semifinal of the Presidents Athletic Conference tournament.
• Former Gophers standout Thomas Vanek, who has 50 points on 19 goals and 31 assists with the Islanders, has been heavily rumored as a trade target as the NHL trade deadline approaches. The Islanders also feature former Gopher Kyle Okposo, who has 61 points on 25 goals and 36 assists, second most on the team behind the injured John Tavares and tied for seventh best in the NHL.