There was a definite last day of school vibe on the Timberwolves bench before Sunday's 136-121 win over the Mavericks.
Josh Okogie was dancing with strength coach Bill Burgos, and the bench was just bouncing around like it was a mini moshpit before tip-off.
The mood was understandable at the end of a trying season filled with plenty of losing, a coaching change, not to mention the isolation and frequent testing that came with a season playing amid a pandemic.
"I think everyone is ready for the break," coach Chris Finch said. "I think that's a very fair and real comment, assessment of where we are. I also think guys are excited, have great hope. That's the best thing you can ask for a lot of time in sports is to have hope. And they got hope."
That's why the Wolves have tried to be as competitive as possible down the stretch, draft odds be darned. For a lot of this season, there was little reason to hope.
The Wolves will keep their first-round pick if it lands in the top three of the draft or relinquish it to Golden State to complete the D'Angelo Russell trade, and Sunday's game could have added some percentage points to those chances with a loss.
But with the win, the Wolves locked up the sixth-worst record in the league, assuring themselves of 27.6% odds of keeping the pick. They could have maxed those odds around 40% if they had finished in the bottom three of the league. Even a loss Sunday would have given them an extra 4.3% in the odds, up to 31.9%, of landing in the top three after Oklahoma City beat the Clippers. But the Wolves maintained they were trying to win out and that didn't change Sunday. It was essential for their morale.
"The second half of the season, we really play good basketball," guard Ricky Rubio said. "Inconsistent. We haven't been the team we want to be all the time, but part of it. We have potential, but in this league, there's a lot of teams that have potential. It's a matter of how you perform every night, and it's a thing of all of us."
To Rubio's point, Sunday's performance was the polar opposite of Saturday, when the Wolves looked like they wanted nothing to do with playing in a listless loss to Boston. The Wolves at least ended the season on a positive note and what it made the win noteworthy was that their rookies, Anthony Edwards and Jaden McDaniels, ignited the spark.
Edwards was electric in scoring 30 points and shooting 5-for-9 from three-point range, a performance that showcased how far he came in the second half of the season. From getting the label as an inefficient chucker who turned into a legitimate first option for the rookie of the year race. Finch was asked afterward when he realized Edwards could be a focal point of the offense. Finch said it came when D'Angelo Russell was hurt, Malik Beasley was suspended and Edwards scored 42 in a win against Phoenix.
"He had to step up and then it wasn't a flash in the pan," Finch said. "Then they started loading up and he started making some adjustments to what he saw defensively. When you see that type of growth in the midst of a season you know you have something special."
Then there was McDaniels, who had 19 points, his second highest output of the season. McDaniels went from a draft pick who analysts saw as a developmental project to starting and becoming one of five players President Gersson Rosas said the team can build around going forward.
Karl-Anthony Towns and D'Angelo Russell each added 23.
Rosas has his core in place and said the team needs to address the power forward position in the offseason, an offseason the Wolves are at least a little glad is finally here.
"It's been a super tough year for everybody, but we see the light at the end of the tunnel," Rubio said.