The Timberwolves played the season's final 25 games a year ago without injured Ricky Rubio and won only five of them.
This season, they could play the first 25 without him if Rubio's rehabilitation from March knee surgery sidelines him through Christmas.
This time, coach Rick Adelman is certain his team is much better suited for forging ahead without their transformational point guard.
The Wolves have added ball-handlers and playmakers -- NBA veterans Brandon Roy and Andrei Kirilenko as well as Russian rookie Alexey Shved -- they clearly lacked a season ago, when they essentially relied upon Rubio and fellow point guards Luke Ridnour and J.J. Barea as their only real ball-handlers.
They also start fresh this time without Rubio, rather than limping to the finish after Rubio and then Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic all got injured in the season's final weeks.
"When we started last season, there was so much enthusiasm about our team that even when we lost games, we had a lot of energy," Adelman said. "But when we lost Ricky, as soon as we had adversity there was nothing there, and I think he was the catalyst for that."
This time around there's nothing but optimism about a team that has added veterans, addressed its aforementioned needs and has a full, uninterrupted training camp to learn how to play together until Rubio returns.
It also has players other than point guards who can dribble the ball and make plays. Adelman started two point guards -- Rubio and Ridnour -- for much of last season because no other position players could do so.
He even played all three point guards together occasionally.
"We got one-dimensional at times last year with guys handling the ball, but now you've got multiple guys who can make plays," Ridnour said. "You don't have to run the same thing every time down because you have so many weapons. You don't have to play [two point guards together] now.
"You can mix it up: Go big, go small, whatever he wants to do. There are a lot of options. Everybody can handle it. That's the thing about this team: You've got so many guys who can make plays."
Shved has played most of his life at shooting guard, although he did play point guard the past two summers for a Russian national team that needed him and because he has the vision and passing skills to do so.
"If you put me on court and you play me like point guard, OK, I play point guard," Shved said.
Roy played with the ball in his hands at the end of games throughout his All-Star career in Portland. He expects to do the same in Minnesota, even when Rubio returns, probably sometime in December.
"I'm always going to be asking for the ball late in the game," Roy said. "I feel like I'll always have the opportunity to make a play."
Rubio, too, thrives with the ball in his hands.
"I don't want to predict how that's going to go," Roy said when asked how the two will adjust to both wanting the ball. "Rubio is such a great player that if he has it, I'm going to be just as confident with the ball."
Adelman said all those issues will be worked out in due time.
"It could be an adjustment," Adelman said. "Whoever plays with Brandon has to be able to make shots. He creates a lot of problems for the other team, and if he's kicking it out to someone like Ricky, well, Ricky has to make shots but he also can then attack.
"I think we're going to have a nice balance, but that could be a situation that takes some time. Ricky's not going to be there and we're going to be playing a certain way, but I'd rather have that problem getting him back than not have it."
When Rubio returns, Adelman will have more options than just putting the ball in Rubio's hands like he did last season.
"I was forced to do that, especially in the fourth quarter," Adelman said. "We had to have him make the plays. Now we're going to be further along when we get him back."
Neither Ridnour (back spasms) nor Malcolm Lee (groin) practiced Tuesday. Of the two, Ridnour is the closest to returning; he did some individual work after practice and he could play in the second or third preseason game. ... Adelman said he would probably go with a starting lineup of J.J. Barea and Brandon Roy at guard, Kevin Love and Andrei Kirilenko at forward and Nikola Pekovic at center on Wednesday night in a preseason game against Indiana in Fargo, N.D. The starters will play about half the game. Adelman, who will use a rotation of 10 or 11 players, said Shved would see significant minutes, both at shooting guard and point guard.