The 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 and edging out the Spurs (57-25) by a game in the process.

Minnesota has not been back to the playoffs since 2004 and instead has been on a series of rebuilding projects. The Spurs have 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 they defy that gravity.

At the same time, in each of the past several seasons — and particularly with this group of young Wolves — there has been a hope that Minnesota will defy its recent history and rise up. But every year it never quite seems to work out.

Read Michael Rand's blog at startribune.com/randball. michael.rand@startribune.com.