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Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio and Cleveland’s Tristan Thompson battled for a loose ball.

Tony Dejak, Associated Press

WOLVES SEASON'S SECOND HALF Up next: 7 tonight vs. Philadelphia • Target Center • TV: FSN (830-AM)

Wolves want to build, not keep rebuilding

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA
  • Star Tribune
  • February 20, 2013 - 6:30 AM

Last week, the Timberwolves sent separate letters -- one signed by coach Rick Adelman, the other by owner Glen Taylor -- to season-ticket holders. Each offered a perk to fans who already had renewed for next season and reminded those who hadn't done so to commit by Monday's deadline.

On Tuesday, bruising center Nikola Pekovic filmed a commercial that promotes a forthcoming campaign for new sales. In it, he discusses tattoos with a female season-ticket owner and then the man who has a bed of skulls engraved on his biceps draws a cute and cuddly teddy bear on the woman's forearm.

Either way, a franchise that promised the playoffs this season and in some cases is more than doubling ticket prices for next season -- after slashing them to bargain prices in recent years -- is asking fans to make yet another leap of faith.

On the court, the Wolves have two months to salvage this injury-ravaged season and demonstrate there truly is reason to hope about the proverbial next year.

That doesn't necessarily mean re-engaging in a playoff chase that has all but disappeared since the Wolves went 3-18 in their past 21 games without re-injured star Kevin Love.

It simply could mean generating some kind of momentum, any kind of momentum now that the NBA's annual All-Star break is over, preferably well before Love returns a month from now after breaking his hand not once but twice this season.

"It's very important," point guard Ricky Rubio said. "Right now, we have to build something here. We had it, and we have to forget about everything that happened with injuries and stuff. We just have to show we have something here."

The 19-31 Wolves trail Houston by five games in the loss column for the Western Conference's eighth and final playoff spot. But they trail the 29-26 Rockets by 10 games in the win column because they've played five fewer games.

Many of Rubio's teammates say they are convinced there still is enough time -- and enough fight -- left for the Wolves to give legitimate chase.

"Yeah, of course," Pekovic said. "We like to win every game. We're still having those thoughts that we can do something more. We are not far from that spot, if we just play harder."

Rubio, in just his second NBA season, strikes a more realistic pose.

"We still have a chance," Rubio said. "It's a small, small chance, but it's a chance. But I mean, we want to improve a lot, and we have to. We have to improve. It has been hard. We're going to improve. That's our goal now."

That ambition starts against Philadelphia at Target Center on Wednesday night, the eve of Thursday's NBA trade deadline.

The Wolves have until 2 p.m. Twin Cities time Thursday to make a deal.

Their most likely options include trading veteran point guard Luke Ridnour or one or more future first-round picks -- they almost certainly will own two in the June draft -- for a legitimately sized shooting guard so coach Rick Adelman won't have to rely on an undersized three-point-guard lineup as much as he does.

Or the Wolves could trade Derrick Williams, the No. 2 overall pick in 2011, who hasn't played up in his lofty draft status but is averaging 16 points and 8.8 rebounds in his past five games starting at Love's power-forward position.

"I'm not even focused on it," Williams said when asked about the trade deadline. "If they wanted to pay me to be in the office, they would. I'm just playing the game I love. Whatever happens, happens."

Williams was asked if he'll be more surprised if he's still a Timberwolf come Thursday night, or if he's not.

"Uh, nothing really," he said. "I wouldn't be surprised at all either way. I've heard trades since the day I got picked. It's nothing new. The first time I heard it, I was a little surprised, but it has been a year and a half now. I'm just here to play basketball."

So is Rubio, who along with Love and possibly Pekovic is among the very few Timberwolves certain he'll still be here after 2 p.m. Thursday.

"That's how it is," Rubio said. "You never know where you can go. You have to be professional. You have to fight for your team that you are on right now, and right now everyone is here with the Timberwolves. And we're going to fight for it."

They have 32 games left to do so, probably a dozen or more without Love or Chase Budinger.

The Wolves start the road back to better health Wednesday, when starting small forward Andrei Kirilenko is expected to return after missing five games because of a strained quad.

Backup guard J.J. Barea also expects his sprained foot to be improved after rehabbing it for five days in the warm sand back home in Puerto Rico.

"We have playoffs in mind, but we can't think about playoffs right now," Kirilenko said. "We have to think about winning games, like take it game by game. We can't think about the bigger picture right now. We can't think about how many games we have to win.

"Thirty? Don't think about it. Take every night as one game. That's the only way to get there."

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