It's difficult to believe the Minnesota Timberwolves are barely closer to a top-eight spot in the Western Conference than the New York Knicks are in the East.
But while Kevin Love has the Timberwolves looking capable of making a run, the Knicks are running out of ways to describe a season that's disintegrated into one of the most disappointing in franchise history.
Minnesota looks for a seventh win in eight games as it opens a critical four-game homestand Wednesday night against a free-falling New York team hoping to avoid an eighth straight loss.
The Knicks (21-40) were just 2 1/2 games out of the East's No. 8 spot at the All-Star break in spite of themselves, while the Timberwolves sat a full six games back and in 10th in the West.
New York has tumbled to 6 1/2 out of the final playoff spot with a seven-game skid, while winning six of seven has only allowed Minnesota (30-29) to make up one game on the West's eighth seed.
But after capping a 4-1 road trip with a 132-128 win at Denver on Monday, the Timberwolves feel they have a chance to jump into what looks like a four-team race for the conference's final three playoff spots.
"You don't have too many must-wins in the beginning of March," guard Kevin Martin said, "but we understand where we're at right now and guys had the mindset that we had to do anything we had to do to get the win."
With seven out of their final 23 against the five teams directly above them, the Timberwolves will have a chance to make up ground. But first up is a four-game homestand against a group of Eastern teams that are a combined 59 games below .500.
"For us to go 4-1 on the road trip means a lot," forward Corey Brewer said. "Now we get to go home, four games at home, and we need all four games at home."
Love is doing his part, averaging 32.9 points and shooting 46.4 percent from 3-point range during this seven-game stretch.
There's every reason to believe his tear will continue Wednesday. In the last four games he's played against New York, Love has averaged 32.5 points and 20.5 rebounds.
He had 34, 15 and five assists while Martin added 30 points in a 109-100 win at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 3.
The Knicks have surrendered an average of 112.1 points during their skid, getting outscored in the paint by 15.7 per game. They held the Pistons to 39 first-half points and led by five at the break Monday, but gave up 57 after halftime in a 96-85 defeat.
"I'm running out of comments," said Carmelo Anthony, who's averaged 32.0 points since the All-Star break.
Monday's loss opened a 12-game stretch in which the Knicks will face just one team currently in postseason position, but no club has made the playoffs in an 82-game season with fewer than 36 wins since 1995. The Knicks would have to finish 15-6 to even hit that mark.
"I gotta stay upbeat," coach Mike Woodson said. "I can never lose hope as a coach. That's just not my nature. My job is to continue to push and give guys confidence to play this game."
The Knicks are 7-37 this season when they allow 93 points or more. The Timberwolves have been held under that mark four times in 27 home games.
Anthony's teams have won eight straight in Minnesota when he's been healthy. He had 36 points in his only appearance at the Target Center with the Knicks, a 100-94 win Feb. 8, 2013, that Love missed due to hand surgery.