The Timberwolves lost their 16th game in a row to the Los Angeles Lakers (106-101) on Jan. 29 at Target Center. Rookie Derrick Williams played 10 minutes with two points and no rebounds.
The Wolves lost their 17th in a row to the Lakers (104-85) on Feb. 29 at Staples Center. Kevin Love was ill and Williams took over at power forward. He played 27 1/2 minutes with 10 points and seven rebounds, numbers that didn't mean much in a noncompetitive game.
The Wolves lost their 18th in a row to the Lakers (105-102) on Friday night at Target Center. Again, Love was absent -- with back spasms -- and Williams made his sixth start in 41 games.
This time, the game was contested fiercely until the final seconds, when Williams went down the lane in an attempt to put the Wolves in the lead, was met by Pau Gasol, and referee Tony Brothers, the senior man in the crew, made the call in the Lakers' favor.
"The ref said he put his arms straight up,'' Williams said. "I thought he came down on my arms.''
Coach Rick Adelman could not have been surprised the benefit went to the Lakers. A decade ago, his Sacramento Kings were victims of perhaps the NBA's all-time refereeing robbery in Los Angeles in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals
Asked about not getting a favorable whistle in the closing seconds, Adelman cited "disadvantages'' his younger club faced against a team with the Lakers' "name power.''
That was the extent of it. There was frustration in the result, but there also had to be optimism for Adelman in what he saw from his Love-less club -- particularly the ongoing ascent of Williams, the 6-8 forward who won't turn 21 until May 5.
There was a three-game stretch in the middle of January when Adelman played Williams a total of 32 minutes. He went 3-for-15 in that limited duty and totaled 11 points.
On Friday, not quite two months later, Williams was on the court for the first 32 minutes against the Lakers and he had a huge impact. He finished with a Love-like 42 1/2 minutes, 22 points and 10 rebounds.
Love and Williams are best equipped to play power forward. The Wolves had that short training camp and there wasn't really an opportunity for Adelman and his staff to figure out how to play both at forward.
Williams didn't have the quickness or defensive acumen to guard small forwards. Michael Beasley showed that frequently in practice sessions. So, Derrick's minutes basically were tied to the stretches when Love played center.
There was a four-game period in early February when Williams played a total of 33 minutes. He described himself as a "caged lion.'' There turned out to be more to that than hyperbole.
He went to Orlando to participate in the dunk contest on Feb. 25. Three nights later, he was home in L.A. and put 27 points on the Clippers. Now, we've started to see regular examples of the high-rising, the strength and the shooting range that are going to make this kid a large handful for opponents.
What was it, a month ago, when the rumor was offered that the Wolves wanted Gasol from the Lakers and would be forced to surrender Williams in return?
It was hard to put any credence in the idea that the Wolves would trade Williams for a 31-year-old making $18 million. And now, after seeing more and more of the good side of Derrick, the chore of Adelman's coaching staff becomes trying to figure out how to get Love, Williams and Nikola Pekovic on the floor at the same time.
There could be defensive issues, but trying to handle the bruiser in the middle, with the All-Star Love and the explosive Williams also to guard ... good luck with that in 2012-13 and beyond.
Look back at what Love was after a half-season (41 games) as a rookie, and what he has become, and take note that's where Williams now stands: 41 games into his rookie season.
If he works at it like Love has, and everyone says Williams is that type of kid, he's going to be another monster on the offensive end.
Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500-AM. firstname.lastname@example.org