Skip to main content


At 20-5, Timberwolves insist they're just getting started

Minnesota Timberwolves celebrate Minnesota Timberwolves celebrate - The Canadian Press

MIAMI (AP) — Mike Conley remembers exactly how many games it took him to realize that these Minnesota Timberwolves might be a real contender this season.

That would be zero.

It was back at the first team meeting in the fall — before any games — when Conley told the Timberwolves what he thought they were capable of. So far, Conley is looking prophetic: The Wolves woke up Tuesday at 20-5, tied with Boston for the NBA's best record.

It's the first time a Wolves team has ever been atop the league 25 games into a season. That's not the ultimate goal, of course, but it speaks to that potential Conley saw months ago.

“I'm not going to lie: I told these guys at our first team meeting that man, I'm blessed to be around a team like this,” said Conley, the Wolves' oldest player at 36 and still chasing what would be a first championship in his 17th year in the league. “I said before we played a game this year, ‘You guys, you don’t understand how good we can be. We can be a championship team. You've got to believe it.'”

His teammates seem like believers.

Minnesota won 42 games last season; the team is one win shy of being halfway to that total already this season. The 20-5 start is the best Minnesota has ever had; it's one win away from matching the best 25-game span, regardless of when it falls on the season calendar, in team history.

“They're formidable, that's for sure,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said.

And they're doing it the old-fashioned way — instead of playing go-go-go on offense in a league that's seeing its highest scoring average since 1969-70 at 115 points per game, the Wolves are giving up fewer points and a lower field-goal percentage than anyone else this season. They have a bona fide scoring star in Anthony Edwards, one elite big man in Karl-Anthony Towns and a perennial defensive player of the year candidate in Rudy Gobert, yet Minnesota's secret isn't much of a secret: have all five guys on the floor involved on both ends of the court at all times.

“Most guys don't guard their way to the NBA. They're scorers by nature when they get here,” Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said. “Obviously, if you want to be a good team, you want as many two-way guys as you possibly can. What happens, and we're seeing it, is when you commit to defense you don't want to let your teammate down. The pride in that kind of grows.”

The seeds to this start got planted last spring, after Minnesota — which needed two play-in games just to make the playoffs — lost 4-1 to Denver in the opening round.

The Wolves got walloped in Game 1 and trailed Game 2 by 21 points, before actually taking the lead going into the fourth. Minnesota was outscored by 44 points in the first six quarters of that series; the score between the Wolves and the eventual NBA champions was completely even — 398-398 — in the final 14 quarters.

Weirdly, from that loss came belief.

“This was never a doubt about the talent of this team,” Gobert said. “The only thing we had to do was build an identity and build championship habits.”

The job, Gobert quickly pointed out, is not finished. A 20-5 start guarantees nothing — but shows what is possible.

“We knew if this is who we are every night, we can put ourselves in position to play in June,” Gobert said. “It's very early in the season, but we're having a lot of fun, we still have a lot of room to grow, but we're starting to look like a pretty good team.”