When the Timberwolves season started, those who get paid to judge how much a team will improve predicted that any Wolves resurgence would be because of the addition of Ricky Rubio, the 2009 first-round draft choice from Spain, and Derrick Williams, the second overall pick in last year's draft from Arizona.
After two dismal performances from the whole team, including Williams and Rubio in losing to Memphis and Cleveland at home, the oddsmakers left Sunday's game as a pick 'em only because the Wizards were the only team in the NBA without a victory and struggling because of injuries.
However, the Wolves hadn't won a game in Washington since 2003 when the Wizards had a much better team. This year's squad, coached by ex-Wolves coach Flip Saunders, had competed well with the Knicks on Friday at home, losing 99-96 on a last-second three-pointer by All-Star Carmelo Anthony.
On Sunday, Rubio and Williams made it possible for the Wolves to win their first road game since beating Detroit 116-105 on March 2.
Rubio and Williams came off the bench and with help from the great Kevin Love, who has a double-double in all eight games this season after collecting 20 points and 16 rebounds in 41 minutes, led the Wolves to a 93-72 victory over Washington.
Rubio, showing even more passing excellence than he had in any previous game, played 30 minutes, 27 seconds and no doubt came through with his best performance as an NBA player when he recorded 13 points, 14 assists and six rebounds.
The Wolves drafted Rubio No. 5 overall in 2009 using a pick they acquired in a predraft deal with the Wizards for Randy Foye and Mike Miller.
Williams also had his best game without a doubt and played the same amount as Rubio. He hit 4-for-7 on three-point shots and scored a career-high 14 points.
In those bad losses to Memphis and Cleveland, coach Rick Adelman said the Wolves worked the pick-and-roll too much and didn't move the ball around enough.
On Saturday, Adelman said the team worked hard in practice on distributing the ball better and spent little time on the pick-and-roll. By better following the coaches' instructions, the Wolves shot 45 percent from the field and made 10 threes in 26 attempts against the Wizards.
They won on the road, a rare accomplishment for this team, without one of their best rebounders and scorers in Michael Beasley, who was sidelined because of a sprain in his right foot.
Saunders spoke to reporters after the game about how tough this season has been on him.
"There's really not much to say," he said. "Disappointment. Embarrassment. I don't know if words can explain. My job over the next two days is to try to find five guys that can play the right way and can play with some heart."
As for the Wolves, they go to Toronto to play a team coached by another former Wolves coach, Dwane Casey, who has the Raptors playing well.
Adelman said after the game that the 1 p.m. Eastern time start for the Wizards game will help the Wolves be more rested for their game Monday.
With the Gophers 0-4 in the Big Ten after losing 79-66 to Purdue on Sunday, they certainly should be underdogs Thursday at Indiana and Sunday at Penn State before returning home to face Northwestern on Jan. 22. This appears to be a rebuilding year for coach Tubby Smith.
At his postgame news conference, Smith talked about how it's been frustrating that the team hasn't been able to win in the Big Ten lately -- they have lost 14 of their past 15 conference games -- and that he has never gone though anything like this.
But there might be some silver lining because of the youth of this year's squad. There is only one senior in center Ralph Sampson III, and he sat on the bench most of the second half and played only 13 minutes in the game.
Among the 11 players who played even briefly on Sunday, there were four freshmen, three sophomores, three juniors and one senior. This is one of the youngest squads Smith has ever coached.
As for the performance of the players in the loss, Smith said: "I thought Joe Coleman [who scored 14 points in his first career Gophers start] played with unbelievable energy. Rodney Williams (19 points, 14 rebounds) had an excellent all-around game."
The Gophers aren't going to win many games when the opposition such as Purdue hits 10 of 15 three-point shots.
"We just have to do a better job of guarding the three," Smith said of a recurring problem in every conference loss.
• Kevin McHale had his critics when he was general manager and coach of the Timberwolves, but he gambled on drafting a high school player with the fifth overall pick in 1995 in Kevin Garnett, who turned out to be a superstar. He also made the 2008 draft-night deal with Memphis that brought Love to the Wolves for shooting guard O.J. Mayo.
• All the players who were members of the 2010 Gophers football team and have eligibility left will return for spring practice except three who are transferring to other schools. Those transferring are wide receiver J.D. Pride to Indiana State and linebacker Brent Singleton and defensive back Tyrone Bouie to unknown schools.
• Andre McDonald, the Hopkins receiver who ranks with the best in the state, has dropped his commitment to Vanderbilt because the coach who recruited him, Chris Beatty, is joining the Illinois staff. McDonald told Gopher Illustrated that Beatty was a big reason he picked Vanderbilt, and now he will consider Illinois and the Gophers, whom he originally gave a commitment. McDonald said he had a visit to Minnesota scheduled for Jan. 13 and Illinois for Jan. 27. There is no doubt the Gophers would love to get McDonald on the roster this fall.
• Former Twins General Manager Bill Smith officially started his new job with the team on Jan. 3 as assistant to President Dave St. Peter and General Manager Terry Ryan. ... Single-game tickets for the Twins' 16-game spring training schedule in Fort Myers, Fla., go on sale Jan. 14. Single-game tickets for Twins games at Target Field go on sale Feb. 25.
• Former Hopkins standout Trent Lockett is having another solid season with Arizona State. The junior is tied for the team lead in scoring at 13.7 points per game, leads in rebounding at 6.7 per game and has a team-high 21 steals for the 5-10 Sun Devils.
• Former Gophers defensive backs coach and Vikings draft pick Kerry Cooks has been named co-defensive coordinator at Notre Dame.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. firstname.lastname@example.org