The NBA has been sending eight teams per conference to the playoffs since 1984. The Timberwolves joined for the 1989-90 season and reached the playoffs eight consecutive times from 1997 through 2004.

Things turned a bit lukewarm after that. They missed the playoffs for an NBA-record 13 straight seasons, popped up with Jimmy Butler to make the field in 2018, and now this:

Two consecutive seasons in the playoffs for the first time since that eight-year run. And let's give coach Chris Finch's club a break here and not belittle the modest feat by bleating:

"They only got there by going through the play-in tournament."

Let's proudly state the Wolves finished in the top eight in the West in both 2022 and 2023, meaning they would have been in the playoff field any year before the 7-through-10 play-in gimmick started in 2021.

The Wolves' fate after losing the 7-8 game to the Lakers in Los Angeles was this: They had to defeat Oklahoma City at home last Friday night, and then start a series 48 hours later at No. 1 seed Denver.

And they had to do this without Jaden McDaniels, who broke a hand punching a wall, and without Naz Reid, who broke his left wrist late in the regular season.

Game 1 was a 109-80 blowout for Denver. No shock there.

Game 2 featured a rousing third quarter comeback led by Anthony Edwards — 41 points on the night — that still resulted in a 122-113 loss.

Game 3 turned into a master work for Denver's two-time MVP Nikola Jokic, a 7-foot combination center and point guard. He had 20 points, 12 assists, 11 rebounds and the Nuggets won 120-111 to make it a 3-0 series.

The arena was full of fans wearing free white T-shirts on Friday night and there was an ambitious attempt at enthusiasm from the start.

Things were looking OK for most of the opening quarter, and then Denver started showing a few things:

One, the all-universe Jokic; two, other weapons who can take full advantage of his passes and the attention he draws; and three, the biggest mistake of Tom Thibodeau's Wolves tenure was not the Jimmy Butler trade but what occurred in his first draft in 2016.

Legend has it, Kentucky coach John Calipari called Thibodeau and encouraged him to select guard Jamal Murray, who was leaving the Wildcats after one season, with the Wolves' No. 5 selection.

Allegedly, Thibodeau contemplated this advice, but decided to go for toughness and took guard Kris Dunn from Providence.

Dunn has been left trying to escape the G League and 10-day contracts, and Murray is the second reason behind Jokic for the Nuggets being a top seed.

The guard went 13-for-22 (6-for-10 on threes) and scored 40 points in the Game 2 win.

The Wolves kept hanging around in the second half, staying close enough to raise the possibility of turning Sunday night's Game 4 into an important event rather than a mere chance to avoid a sweep.

It's now Option B — put off the inevitable elimination.

And when the elimination occurs, this could be the sad reality for the Wolves' fans that showed up in strong numbers in 2022-23:

What you've seen with this 42-40 regular season and getting through the play-in could be the optimum for the foreseeable future.

The decision to dump D'Angelo Russell in order to bring in veteran point guard Mike Conley was genius. He was healthy, wise and actually provided some shooting when left open.

Trouble is that Conley will be 36 and entering his 17th season next October. And there is no heir apparent in sight — not on this roster, not in the first of four drafts in the next seven where the Wolves will not have a first-rounder, and not in a free-agent deal with their gigantic salary-cap issues.

The enormous salaries for Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert — with another soon due to Anthony Edwards — brings the Wolves the deadly combination of large salary-cap issues and minimal draft choices.

"Trade Towns" is a popular suggestion.

Really? He's starting a $235 million contract next fall. That's going to be a very short line of teams wanting in on that.

Yes, this is now Edwards' team — he had another 36 on Friday — but with little help on the horizon … well, these might be the good old days.