All the Wolves need is one fantastic finish

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 18, 2014 - 7:16 AM

If the Warriors and Suns continue their present pace, the Wolves would have to go 22-7 to make the playoffs.

The Timberwolves return to work Tuesday vowing to fight the good fight for the season’s remaining 29 games and promising there’s still enough time and talent to reach the playoffs for the first time in a decade.

But do the math.

They are chasing Phoenix and Golden State for the Western Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot, trailing each by six games and ninth-place Memphis by 4½. Both the Suns and the Warriors leave the All-Star break nine games over .500, so unless they come back to the pack in the season’s final two months the Wolves probably will need to reach at least 47 victories to contend for a playoff spot.

At 25-28 now, that means they would have to go 22-7 in a season finish that could determine whether coach Rick Adelman returns next season and possibly whether star Kevin Love envisions a life here beyond 2015.

And even a 22-7 run might not even be enough for a team that went into the All-Star break with starters Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin injured and could come out of it without either player available for Wednesday’s home game against Indiana.

That is, unless President of Basketball Operations Flip Saunders can swing a season-altering deal by Thursday’s trade deadline.

Yahoo! Sports reported Monday the Wolves have discussed a trade with Memphis that would send offensive-minded reserves J.J. Barea and Chase Budinger for defensive-minded Tayshaun Prince and Tony Allen. Dante Cunningham and Luc Mbah a Moute are others who could be traded by Thursday. Barea’s departure would create a need for a backup point guard such as Denver’s exiled Andre Miller, unless the Wolves intend to rely upon Alexey Shved and A.J. Price there.

Smiling Wolves forward Corey Brewer is ever the optimist.

“That’s doable,” Brewer said of such a season finish. “I was on a team last year, we were under .500 by like six games and we won like 18, 17 in a row, so anything can happen. … We can win 15, 20 in a row. You never know. Anything can happen.”

There’s just one thing wrong with Brewer’s thesis: His memory is fuzzy.

His Denver team a season ago never was more than two games under .500, and that was way back in November. The Nuggets were 34-22 shortly after the All-Star break and then ripped off a 15-game winning streak on their way to a 57-victory season.

Wolves star Kevin Love struck a chord of realism during All-Star weekend.

“We really need to go on some type of run, but we need K-Mart and Pek back,” Love said. “It’s going to be tough, but I think it is doable. Maybe not 22-7, but if we can go 18-11, 20-9, that would be a big run for us.”

The schedule doesn’t start out too kindly, either: The Wolves play the Eastern Conference-leading Pacers at home, then go out west for a five-game trip that includes games at Portland and Phoenix.

“We know what we have to do,” Wolves coach Rick Adelman said. “We know where we stand.”

Yet so much depends on the Wolves’ collective health:

• Pekovic missed the last nine games before the All-Star break because of ankle bursitis. His return as soon as Wednesday is no guarantee because even if he is fully healthy, one practice Tuesday after three weeks away might not be enough.

• Martin is scheduled to have his fractured thumb examined again before the team leaves Friday for Utah, and he said last week it’s possible he will play on that trip. He missed the last three games before All-Star weekend after he broke it late in a game at New Orleans.

“Hopefully I go before then and hopefully the doctor tells me it’s OK,” he said.

Love played 33-plus minutes in Sunday’s All-Star Game after he struggled with a bruised thigh and stiff neck and back in the final eight days before the break. He declared himself physically “fine” afterward.

“I’m going to rest tomorrow and hopefully Tuesday and be ready to go for Wednesday,” he said after Sunday’s game.

Even when completely healthy, the big question remains: Is this team — without a significant move — good enough to reach the playoffs?

“Well, we’ll find out,” Adelman said earlier this month. “All you can do is go out there and keep working at it, try to get better, try to get through this period without Pek. I think that will be answered as the season goes on, I really do.”

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  • Kevin Love said he sees hope for the Wolves to make the playoffs. “I think it is doable,” the All-Star said. “Maybe not 22-7, but …”

  • Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman said of playing without injured center Nikola Pekovic, ‘‘All you can do is go out there and keep working at it, try to get better, try to get through this period without Pek.’’

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