garnettduncanThe Timberwolves finished the 2003-04 season with the best record in the Western Conference (58-24), securing their eighth consecutive playoff berth in the process.

They edged out the Spurs (57-25) — Kevin Garnett getting one up on Tim Duncan — by a game for that best-record distinction, a significant accomplishment considering San Antonio was the defending NBA champion and had also won a title in 1999 (defeating the Wolves in the first round in 1999, by the way, and frustrating an early 20s fan enough that he yelled an unprintable thing at Malik Rose. That young fan might have been me).

In the 2004 playoffs, the Lakers took care of the Spurs in the second round while the Wolves had their epic battle with the Kings. Then Sam Cassell’s back got wonky and the Wolves lost to the Lakers in the conference finals.

Minnesota has not been back to the playoffs since 2004 and instead have been on a series of rebuilding projects for the past decade. The Spurs, on the other hand, have won three more championships (2005, 2007 and 2014) and continued their trajectory as one of the NBA’s long-term model franchises.

What is particularly striking about these seemingly never-ending divergent paths is this: every year for at least that last four or five, there has been an expectation that the Spurs will finally start to show their age and slip into mediocrity. Every year — very much like the Lynx, by the way — they defy that gravity. Whether it’s adding a key new player thanks to a savvy front office, having veterans outperform their age or just the coaching will of Gregg Popovich, San Antonio is timeless.

And at the same time, in each of the past several seasons — and particularly this year, with this group of young Wolves — there has been a hope that Minnesota will defy its recent history and rise up. But every year, whether it’s the promising high draft picks not panning out, a devastating injury or some question of chemistry problems, it never quite seems to work out.

We keep waiting for these paths to converge, but even now — the Spurs are 17-4, the Wolves are 6-14 going into their meeting at Target Center on Tuesday night — they are two parallel lines, one near the top of the NBA food chain and one near the bottom.

There are reasons to believe that could change. But if you want to predict it will come sooner rather than later, history tells us you will probably look like a fool.

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