PHOENIX – It’s probably hyperbole to say the Timberwolves’ 110-101 comeback victory at Phoenix on Tuesday night played them back into the playoff race.
It might not be a reach, however, to say they avoided playing themselves out of it by plucking away a victory just as the Suns did to them at Target Center in January.
If the Wolves hadn’t rallied from eight points down with eight minutes remaining to win, they would have been 7 ½ games behind the Suns in pursuit of the Western Conference’s eighth and final spot.
Instead, they awoke Wednesday for a rare three-day break between road games 5 ½ games behind the Suns.
“Big difference,” Wolves rookie forward Shabazz Muhammad said.
A victory achieved with a 24-6 fourth-quarter run — including a 11-0 surge over 2 ½ minutes late in the game — pushed the Wolves back within a game of .500, at 28-29.
More importantly, it gives them hope.
They’ll head to Sacramento for Saturday’s fourth game in a crucial five-game trip with the chance to go 4-1 before they return to play nine of their next 13 games at home.
They’ll do so coming off star Kevin Love’s 33-point, 13-rebound, nine-assist game that came within one assist of his second career triple-double game in the past four days as well as the first real breakout night in Muhammad’s young, quiet career so far.
“I think we can make a run,” Muhammad said. “There are still a lot of games I feel we can win. We’re playing so good as a team. We’re not out of it yet.”
The Wolves have won four of their past five games, all of them without the injured Nikola Pekovic, Kevin Martin and Ronny Turiaf.
Muhammad has emerged the past three games after playing very little before that because with Pekovic and Martin out, Adelman is searching to replace some of those missing 37 points a game.
On Tuesday, Muhammad provided more than half of those 37 with a career-high 20-point night that including half of those points in the fourth quarter. He helped will his team back in the fourth quarter not only with his scoring, but with his rebounding (six, including five in the fourth) and physicality, not to mention sheer determination.
His play took a victory away from a Suns team that had stolen one from them nearly two months ago. The Wolves led by nine points with fewer than five minutes left in that game and still lost 104-103 after Phoenix went on a finishing 16-6 run.
“We kind of owed them,” Love said. “That was a big win for us.”
The Wolves hadn’t forgotten that January game.
Or had they?
“We don’t talk about losing those close games as much as you guys do,” Adelman said to reporters after Tuesday’s game. “We forget about them. Things happen. I think what we have to do now is what we always talk about: Execute in the fourth quarter, take care of the ball and you have to get stops and we did that [Tuesday]. Hopefully, we’ll learn our lesson tonight.”