SAN ANTONIO – Timberwolves forward Chase Budinger broke open a cold beverage Wednesday night at AT&T Center and toasted a season that ended in good health and with a 108-95 victory over the Spurs, his team’s first in San Antonio since he was 15 years old.
Budinger made it through the season’s final month with his surgically repaired left knee not as explosive as it once was or will be next fall.
He made it through the season with a team that, even without injured star Kevin Love, went 8-8 down the stretch after the Wolves finished 2-14 a season ago.
On Wednesday, they finished the franchise’s 23rd season with a 31-51 record — the most victories by a Wolves team that didn’t have Kevin Garnett on it — by beating the Spurs in San Antonio for the first time since Jan. 14. 2004.
By doing so, they said goodbye to their eighth consecutive losing season in a winning way.
Coincidentally, 2004 is the last time the Wolves had a winning season and reached the playoffs, advancing through Rick Adelman’s Sacramento Kings in a second-round seventh game before losing in the Western Conference finals during Garnett’s league MVP season.
“I can’t remember that far back,” Adelman, now the Wolves coach, said after Wednesday’s game.
Adelman will take the fuzzy warm memory of a season-ending victory into a summer when he will decide if he will coach another season.
Before the game, Adelman said he just wanted his team to compete harder than it did in Monday’s 96-80 home loss to Utah.
He didn’t say anything about winning.
“Well, if you compete, you have a chance,” he said afterward. “I’m just really happy for the way we played. They got ready for next week and we want to finish off positive. I give our guys credit. We came out and these guys finished off on a positive note.”
The Spurs clearly prepped Wednesday for the playoffs that begin Sunday for them: Coach Gregg Popovich, who has been known to do such things, carefully measured the minutes of his starters and sixth man Manu Ginobili, who returned after three weeks away to play 12 minutes. Popovich rested his best players the entire fourth quarter.
Duncan delivered a 17-point, 14-rebound double-double in only 27 minutes. The Wolves played better in the second half, turning a five-point halftime deficit into a lead that grew to as many as 16 points in the fourth quarter.
The Spurs finished the regular season losing four of their last five games, including their final three.
“We said we wanted to finish the season strong and we did it today, against a good team,” Wolves guard Ricky Rubio said. “It’s good finishing with a win, especially with what happened all the year through. We’re going to build from what we did at the end of the season and try to bring it next year.
“It’s something, we have to build from it: Add some pieces this summer and be in the playoffs next year. It’s a long time, but I think we can do it.”
Adding those pieces, he said, starts with keeping center Nikola Pekovic, who missed the season’s final four games because of a bruised calf and will be a restricted free agent come July.
“Well, we have to figure out if Pek is going to stay or not,” Rubio said. “It’s all going to depend on that because if Pek goes [he laughs], we need a big guy. We need to add more pieces.
“There are a lot of questions that have to be talked. During the season is not the time to talk. Now we can start talking. We need them.”
The Wolves won one April game the previous three seasons, a lone victory at Detroit a year ago. They went 5-5 this April.
“Just totally different the way we competed and the way we played,” Adelman said, comparing one season to the next. “We can forget about the month of April now, just totally different.
“We know if we get healthy and we get people back, we have a chance to be a pretty good team. You look back, it has been a tough year, but the guys got better and learned a lot about what it’s going to take for us to win.”