DENVER - Timberwolves center Darko Milicic is about to complete a season that he says is unlike any of his first seven in the NBA.
Yet, many of the same questions remain about a player who missed Saturday's 130-106 loss at Denver because of a sprained ankle.
The loss was, with only two games now remaining in a 17-victory season, the Wolves' 13th consecutive defeat, and it came on a night when Nuggets guard Ty Lawson made 10 three-pointers and scored 37 points against a team that selected him on draft night 2009 and then traded in an instant to Denver in a pre-arranged deal.
It also came on a night when Kevin Love (groin) and Milicic both sat out.
Fifth in the league in blocked shots, Milicic is finishing a season interrupted by nagging injuries and beset by turnovers that nonetheless he says leaves him encouraged about his future with the team.
"It wasn't great, but it was OK," he said. "I feel much more comfortable playing basketball. I think this is the first season where I really believed somebody, really believed the people here. I think it's the first time I'm really looking forward to next season."
The Wolves signed Milicic last summer to a four-year contract that guarantees him at least $16 million and made him the team's starting center.
But this season just might have proven that he's better than the same guy written off as one of the great draft busts in history -- No. 2 overall in a year when Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade went after him -- but still probably best suited as a backup center in this league.
"He didn't have the season where he regained all of his confidence," Wolves coach Kurt Rambis said. "There's a lot more to his game that he didn't show this year.
"That's going to come over time. After having spent so many years whatever he went through to lose that confidence, it's going to take a while to get it back."
Rambis was asked if he's convinced that potential is still there and if the team still has the patience to wait for it.
His hands fidgeted and he paused for six seconds and answered, "Yes."
Asked if he still sees Milicic as the team's center of the future, he paused and said, "There's a lot of potential on this team, there's an awful lot of potential on this team. But there's a tremendous amount of youth on this team, too. It's going to take a while for some of these players to blossom into the players they can be."
A season ago, the Wolves won 15 games. This season, they've won 17 and are tied with Cleveland for the league's worst record.
"This is tough, losing's tough," Milicic said. "We all said at the beginning of the season that we don't want to go through this again, like last year. But we did almost the same thing again.
"For next season, I'm not going to say anything, what we're going to do or what we're not going to do."Notes
• Lawson made his first 10 three-point attempts and then missed his last, a long buzzer-beater that ended the third quarter. Those 10 were the most made against the Wolves this season and tied Joe Dumars' mark for the most ever made against a Wolves team.
• FYI: The Wolves traded Lawson for a 2010 pick that they then traded for Martell Webster.
• UNLV is expected to name a new head coach to replace Lon Kruger as early as Monday. Former UNLV star and Wolves assistant coach Reggie Theus interviewed there for more than five hours on Thursday and is considered one of the frontrunners in a race where BYU associate head coach Dave Rice reportedly is the favorite.