MILWAUKEE – It’s different this time, Wolves coach Rick Adelman said.
Last year an injury-ravaged Wolves team nowhere near the playoffs shut things down early.
“Last year’s team was ready for the season to be over,” Adelman said. “And their effort showed it. This team is not like that. They do things as a team, not as individuals.”
Which is why, on the road, with nothing to play for besides their pride — and their coach — the Wolves put forward another 48 minutes of effort in a 107-98 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks at Bradley Center.
As Minnesota (28-46) continues to get healthier, so do the numbers.
The Wolves have now won two consecutive games, their first winning streak since Dec. 15. They have won three road games in a row for the first time this season and have won five of their past eight overall.
And now Adelman stands with 999 career victories, one away from becoming the eighth NBA coach with 1,000.
“It’s nice to get the win,” was all Adelman said about nearing the milestone. “They’re playing well right now. Let’s see if we can keep it going.”
The Wolves started strong and, with the exception of a second-quarter hiccup, led most of the way while scoring 100 points for the fifth time in six games. Center Nikola Pekovic scored 27 points, giving him 56 in two games since missing a game because of an ankle injury. Ricky Rubio filled up the stat sheet, including hitting a career-high five three-pointers on six attempts — this after never having hit more than two in a game before.
“I was feeling good,’’ he said. “And I let it fly.”
He finished with 19 points, 12 assists and eight steals, and now is officially qualified to be listed among the league leaders in assists (top eight) and steals (top two). The other three Wolves starters were in double figures, too.
But for all that, it was defense that sealed it. The Wolves finally found a way to slow Ersan Ilyasova (29 points) in the fourth quarter, during which the Wolves held Milwaukee to 7-for-21 shooting and forced nine Bucks turnovers.
“We’ve been waiting for this all season, to get healthier,” Rubio said. “We have confidence now. We have more bodies on the bench. That makes it easier to play hard for 48 minutes than when we had eight or nine players.”
Confidence, apparently, breeds teamwork. The Wolves’ 33 assists — a season high — spoke to ball movement; all 10 players who played got at least one. That movement translated into 52.4 percent shooting from the field.
The Wolves have little to play for, but they continue to play hard.
“There are a lot of different guys in the locker room,” guard J.J. Barea said. “We want to go home for the summer with a good finish, a good feeling.”
And now? One more big goal. Adelman might be loath to talk about 1,000 victories. But after the game, all the players were talking about it.
“How great would it be to do that for him,” Barea asked. “Only need one more. It’s looking good, and it wasn’t looking so good a couple weeks ago.”
“We want to do it as soon as possible,” Rubio said. “We’re going to do it for him.”
Backup center Greg Stiemsma didn’t have a big night statistically. He scored two points on 1-for-3 shooting and had four rebounds with two assists. But he was a big part of the Wolves’ defensive effort down the stretch. Stiemsma had three blocks and two steals in the fourth quarter.
A Wisconsin native who played for the Badgers, Stiemsma grew up a Bucks fan. But the Bucks, apparently, never were fans of him. Stiemsma had to play his way across Europe for a while before making it in the NBA with the Celtics last season. He was signed by the Wolves before this season. Never once did the Bucks express interest.
“At one point somebody on their staff said I wasn’t an NBA player,” he said. “I mean, right out of college I probably wasn’t. But I never got one call from these guys. So there has always been a little extra push when I play them.”
Chase Budinger has said he won’t be 100 percent healthy before this season ends. Having returned recently from knee surgery, Budinger wore down during a stretch in which the Wolves played seven games in 10 nights.
“I won’t be myself the rest of the season,” he said. Budinger is also working to get his shot back. He is 15-for-40 in his past six games.