With 7 minutes, 22 seconds left in the third quarter of the Timberwolves' game against the Mavericks on Monday, the Target Center crowd stood and rendered a standing ovation.
It is indicative of the season that the cheers were for one player, not for the team. Kevin Love had just gotten his man into the air, was fouled and was about to attempt three free throws. Moments before he had reached a double-double for the 51st consecutive time, and the people roared in approval.
"It's one of those moments you pinch yourself to see if it's real," said Love, who waved to the fans. "All the fans, all the people in the Twin Cities, in Minnesota, they've been great all year. They've had our backs. I can't imagine what it's going to be like when we really start winning."
True enough. On a night when Love collected 23 points and 17 rebounds and continued to march up the all-time double-double chart, the Wolves pushed the Mavs hard but came up short, 108-105. It was an entertaining, hard-fought game in which the Wolves played tough, bouncing back from Dallas runs all night long.
But in the end they came up short, when Dallas scored seven consecutive points after Michael Beasley hit two free throws with 2:15 left to give the Wolves a 97-96 lead.
Love, a student of the game and a fan of the man (Moses Malone) whose streak he tied Monday, knows what matters: wins.
"I would be jumping for joy if we were winning and everybody was playing great, including me," he said. "[The streak] is an afterthought, because we don't win games."
Malone had 51 consecutive double-doubles, but he did it over two seasons. Love and Malone now have the longest such streak since the NBA-ABA merger. Love entered the game having gotten 20-plus points and rebounds in three games in a row. He came three rebounds short of doing it for a fourth time, a feat last done by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the Lakers in 1975.
Monday the fans even chanted "MVP," something Love scoffed at, noting the Wolves' 15-win total.
Beasley added 20 points and nine rebounds. Both Wayne Ellington (12) and Jonny Flynn (11) were in double figures. But the Wolves couldn't stop Dirk Nowitzki (25 points) or Jason Terry (11) late.
Love wasn't the only player cheered Monday. The fans welcomed back Corey Brewer, who was making his first appearance in Target Center since being traded away two weeks ago. Brewer, who went to New York as part of the Carmelo Anthony deal, was bought out by the Knicks, then signed to a three-year deal by the Mavs.
"This is great," Brewer said of his current team. "Every night -- and I've only been here two games -- but every night is about winning. And not just winning a game, but trying to win a championship."
The Wolves are a long ways from thinking that way. Coach Kurt Rambis lauded the team's toughness but lamented the mistakes that cost his team the victory -- the forced fourth-quarter shots, the missed free throws, the late defensive lapses that allowed the Mavs to shoot 8-for-15 (4-for-7 on threes) in the fourth quarter.
"We can't keep taking one step forward and two steps back," Love said.
• For the first time in a long time, Rambis had his full roster available. Guard Wes Johnson returned from illness, center Darko Milicic returned after becoming a father for the second time, guard Wayne Ellington returned after being away tending to a personal matter and guard Martell Webster returned after missing seven games because of a sore back/tailbone.