Despite plenty of individual talent and a point differential that suggests they belong in the league's upper echelon, the Minnesota Timberwolves' chronic inability to win a close game through the first half of the season made their record anything but elite.
With that finally out of the way - and a successful trip in the books - the Timberwolves are confident a playoff push is coming.
After winning three of four on the road, Minnesota looks to climb over .500 for the first time since late November with Wednesday night's visit from the New Orleans Pelicans.
The Timberwolves (22-22) have the league's seventh-best point differential at plus-4.6, but they have the 11th-best record in the Western Conference thanks in large part to a 1-11 record in games decided by four points or fewer.
That lone victory came in their most recent close one, a 121-120 win at Golden State on Friday. Minnesota lost 115-104 at Portland the next night, but closed out a rather successful trip with a 95-86 victory at Chicago on Monday.
"We needed these games," forward Kevin Love told the team's official website. "It's tough to play Portland in a back-to-back, but going 3-1 in this trip feels good. Hopefully we can build off this. Now we go back and play in front of our home fans."
The Timberwolves begin a stretch of seven games in 11 days looking to get over .500 for the first time since Nov. 25, but they may be without their starting center until after the All-Star break. An MRI on Tuesday revealed bursitis in the right ankle of Nikola Pekovic, who left midway through the first quarter Monday.
Pekovic will be kept off the court for seven to 10 days before being re-evaluated. Ronny Turiaf picked up the slack Monday, scoring a season-high 14 points with seven rebounds and three blocks in 32 minutes.
Pekovic had 22 points, Love 21 and Kevin Martin 20 as Minnesota rolled to a 124-112 home victory over the Pelicans (19-25) on Jan. 1, when New Orleans was only missing Jason Smith.
Now the Pelicans are without Ryan Anderson and Jrue Holiday, but lately they haven't missed those two all that much thanks to Anthony Davis. After putting up 22 points, a career-high 19 rebounds and seven blocks in a 100-92 win over Orlando on Sunday, Davis finished with 30 points and eight blocks in Tuesday's 100-89 victory at Cleveland.
"Everybody keeps talking about All-Star, and should he be an All-Star," coach Monty Williams said. "All you have to do is look at tonight. Show me other bigs who are doing it on both ends like he does every single night."
Davis suffered a left index finger injury in the fourth quarter, but said after the game that he was OK.
The Pelicans now try for a third time to win a season-high fourth straight, but that'll require ending a three-game losing streak at the Target Center - where the series' last three games have been played. Minnesota rolled to a 115-86 victory there Feb. 2 and won 97-95 on March 17 - both without Love - before leading by as many as 30 four weeks ago.
Perhaps a visit from New Orleans will prompt Ricky Rubio to look a bit more for his own offense. Minnesota's point guard has averaged 13.0 points on 63.6 percent shooting in the last three with the Pelicans, posting 14 points, nine assists, eight boards and three steals earlier this month.
With a 35.8 field-goal percentage on the season, Rubio ranks second-to-last among the 185 NBA players who average at least seven field-goal attempts and have played in at least half of their team's games.
The Timberwolves are 12-3 when he scores more than 10 points.
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