The 2003-04 Timberwolves were built to win, buttressed by the additions of Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell to join Kevin Garnett and form a nearly unstoppable triumvirate.

And win they did, to the tune of a franchise-record 58 victories. They won the Midwest Division title, then reached the Western Conference finals. Target Center swayed all season as fans serenaded the triple-threat attack with "MV3! MV3!"

General Manager Kevin McHale raised expectations by bringing in Cassell and Sprewell. Those expectations were pretty much met.

"I remember when we were 37-15 at the All-Star break, we kept talking about the championship, what we were going to wear to the White House, how we were going to act at the White House," reserve forward Gary Trent said. "We had it all mapped out."

That team serves as a reference point for this year's 56-win Woofies, who have come a long way to enter the conversation as best Wolves team ever. They have their own big three in Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert. They are the first Wolves team to reach the conference finals since that 2003-04 squad and have a chance to go where no Wolves team has gone before.

To do that, they'll have to pack a lunch after losing the first two games in their best-of-7 series against Dallas. Two games. Two losses by one possession. Two games in which they needed more from Edwards and Towns. The Wolves have led for 72 minutes in the two games but their resolve is being challenged.

But the 2003-04 Wolves season is a warning to Ant & Co. of how fast championship windows can slam on your fingers. This year's team looks set up to fight for the Western Conference throne for the foreseeable future. But more than looking the part, these Wolves must follow through. Before we can imagine what this team can achieve over the next few seasons, let's acknowledge you can't win multiple titles until you win the first one.

Take advantage now, because you don't know when the next chance will come.

Wally Szczerbiak, an analyst for the MSG Network, said the Wolves' run has brought back memories of the 2003-04 team he played on, how it jelled and how fun it was in the locker room. Those good times are back this season, and he's happy for owner Glen Taylor, who has struggled to sustain success since purchasing the team in 1994.

"So hopefully this team can surpass our Western Conference finals team," Szczerbiak said.

That Wolves team lost in six games to the Lakers, with Cassell unavailable for the final game because of hip and back injuries. History could have been different if he would have been healthy, but we'll never know. Trent believed the team matched up well with Detroit, the eventual champion.

Cassell and Sprewell were well into their 30s, so their window to win wasn't long, but the Wolves believed a title was possible in 2004-05. From the start, there were problems. Cassell and Sprewell had contract disputes, with Sprewell's "I've got my family to feed" comment infuriating fans. Then Szczerbiak missed 53 games because of plantar fasciitis. Garnett endured a balky right knee most of the season. The Wolves never recovered from a 7-13 skid during the holidays. Less than a year after coaching Shaquille O'Neal in the All-Star Game, Flip Saunders was fired as coach. McHale took over for the remainder of the season, going 19-12. Sprewell walked past fans wearing bags over their heads on the final game of the regular season.

"That was a rough next year," Szczerbiak said. "We were looking to build on the previous year."

The Wolves proceeded to miss 13 consecutive postseasons.


"I remember Spree saying that before the Western Conference finals," Szczerbiak said. "You never know when you are going to get back to this point."

In the Wolves' case, it took 20 years. Now the Wolves are trying to take one step more than the team from 20 years ago. And with their key players under contract for the near future, the Wolves look to be a threat for a few seasons.

"I believe they have the elements to win it all," Trent said.

The Wolves of 20 years ago felt the same way. Can Edwards, Towns, Gobert and the rest avoid the same outcome? A win in Dallas on Sunday would the first step.