Kevin Love was fouled by Portland's Nicolas Batum before a crowd of more than 17,000 on Wednesday night at Target Center.

Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune


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Playoffs? Are you kidding me? Wolves in the hunt

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA
  • Star Tribune
  • March 8, 2012 - 6:48 AM

The ordinary, the unexpected and the inconceivable all intersected during the Timberwolves' 106-94 victory over Portland on Wednesday night at Target Center.

The ordinary: Kevin Love's 29-point, 16-rebound evening that seemed routine in comparison to Saturday's 42-point game at Portland and Monday's 39 against the Clippers.

The unexpected: A kid in the crowd that clamors for autographs when the Wolves leave the court at halftime turned toward a buddy after players had hurried past and wondered aloud if he had missed Wes Johnson, the second-year Wolves swingman who had been all but forgotten this season until he produced a season-high 19 points.

And the inconceivable, at least until not all that long ago: If the season ended Wednesday night, the Wolves would be in the playoffs.

They reached eighth place in the Western Conference -- tied with Houston, but owners of the tiebreaker -- by winning their third consecutive game, their fifth in a row at home and their eighth of 11 overall.

Until Saturday, they hadn't beaten the Trail Blazers for nearly five years and now they have done so twice in five days.

There's something building here, Timberwolves Nation.

"I just hope it's confidence," Wolves coach Rick Adelman said when asked what that something might be. "They know if we get a rhythm, if we play the way we're capable of, we can continue to win games. There is a confidence level. There is a difference tonight."

On Wednesday, it surged from the most likely suspects -- namely Love, who had 15 points in the first quarter, 20 by halftime and 24 through three quarters -- to the least, a guy named Johnson.

Until Wednesday, Johnson could hardly make a shot, problematic for a starting small forward, a position filled with top-notch scorers throughout the league. He made four of his first five shots against the Blazers and just kept going, all the way to an 8-for-11 night in which he scored on everything from three three-pointers to putback dunks even though he didn't play in the fourth quarter.

"I'm a shooter, so I just got to shoot the ball," he said. "I wasn't down, I wasn't losing confidence in my shot. It just wasn't going in. I just tried to stay with it. Tonight, it was going in. I felt it as soon as the first shot. I was just out there playing basketball."

Love and Johnson pushed the Wolves to an 81-72 lead after three quarters before Adelman turned to a lineup that included Love at center, rookie Derrick Williams at power forward, Martell Webster at small forward, Luke Ridnour at one guard and first J.J. Barea, then Ricky Rubio when Barea once again sprained an ankle midway through the fourth quarter.

That group kept the Blazers away, limiting All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge to five second-half points (including only two in the fourth) after he had scored 17 in the first half on an array of jumpers. When the Blazers pulled within 90-84 midway through the fourth, Ridnour responded by scoring seven consecutive points to push Portland away.

And suddenly, the Wolves have moved into eighth in the West, just 2 1/2 games out of a tie for third.

"We're talking about it, we're talking about the fact that we are relevant," Adelman said. "There is no reason we are any different than anyone else fighting for those spots. We can win games and we can stay right there. That is what we are building towards."

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