He is the basketball version of the Nuclear Football, the doomsday briefcase that accompanies the president everywhere. He is the fire extinguisher encased in glass. He is the Pale Panacea, the solution to all that ails the Minnesota Timberwolves.

He is Mark Madsen, the Good Sport of Last Resort, and he must be called upon like a superhero from the Fortress of Solitude. Only he can save them now.

On their last road trip, the Wolves kept Madsen on the bench, and paid for it. They slipped on the banana peels that are the Kings and the Clippers, accidentally and regrettably winning two games in a row. Returning home to crickets chirping in Target Center helped the Wolves regain their equilibrium, and they got back to the task at hand on Tuesday, throwing away a game against Portland.

Lest anyone forget, this is the assignment of the 2007-2008 Wolves: Losing as much as possible to attain the highest chance of winning the NBA draft lottery and landing Kansas State's Michael Beasley.

During the second half of the season, the Wolves have lapsed in their duties, winning the occasional game and allowing the Miami Heat to hurtle past them in the race for the worst record in the NBA.

The Wolves need to play down to the level of their competition. The Heat has been determined to fail all year. Heat honcho Pat Riley advertised his intentions early by making a trade with the Wolves for Ricky Davis and Mark Blount.

Right then, the Wolves' brass should have grown suspicious. Any team willing to trade for Davis and Blount clearly has no intention of winning games.

The Heat became even more plainly unambitious by trading away Shaquille O'Neal, ending Dwyane Wade's season early and having Riley promise to take games off to scout.

The Heat, clearly, is playing dirty. The Wolves need to respond with their big tube of antibiotic cream -- The Talented Mr. Madsen.

Madsen established his bona fides two seasons ago on April 19, 2006. The Wolves were determined to lose the season finale to Memphis. They flashed their Mad Dog Light against the night sky, assigned a surgeon to remove the towel from Madsen's right palm and watched him provide a Herculean effort (Hercules couldn't shoot either).

Madsen went 1-for-15 from the field, including seven missed three-pointers. He and the Wolves made a farce of pro basketball that night but achieved their objective, getting beaten by the Jordanesque Brian Cardenal, who noted dryly: "We were fortunate. Mark Madsen wasn't 'on' tonight.''

Play Madsen the rest of the season and the Wolves will improve their chances of landing Beasley. But Madsen shouldn't be asked to provide all of the turnovers, missed shots and false hustle. No, the Mad Dog needs help.

It's not too late for the Wolves to sign Ndudi Ebi to a 10-day contract. (Or a 10-year contract, for that matter. He's not exactly overbooked.) A chance to work with Randy Wittman should enable him to relive his glory years, and perhaps even learn how to remove his warmups.

Kevin McHale could bring back another former first-round draft pick, Paul Grant -- also known as the poor man's Mark Madsen.

Gerald Green is again available, and if anyone can jack up bad three-pointers faster than Madsen, it's Green.

J.R. Rider would be good for team chemistry, as long as the chemistry in question involves the resin produced by the cannibis sativa plant.

It's not too late to fire the coach, either. Wittman's credentials as a losing coach are unimpeachable, but he'll never match the versatility and dull-eyed apathy of Jimmy Rodgers.

The Wolves have done a fine job of stinking up gyms all across America (and Canada!) this season, keeping hope alive.

Tonight at Seattle, The Pale Bench Rider should take the court wearing a scarlet letter A (for airball), while proving the Wolves, above all others, deserve the first pick in the draft.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon on AM-1500 KSTP. • jsouhan@startribune.com