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Grueling stretch nears end for Wolves, but schedule saved toughest for last

ORLANDO – The Timberwolves have prided themselves on being a tough team. They will play through most injuries and ailments, and they expect to play at a high level, even if the schedule or their ailing bodies are more a hindrance to reaching that quality than a help.

But there's also the reality of the hectic nature of NBA seasons and how that can affect what teams can put on the floor on a given night.

They knew this current 16-game stretch, a stretch that is almost at its end, would be perhaps their most significant test of the season. All games included teams above .500 and 11 came on the road. The Wolves are 8-6 after playing 14 of those games, and the schedule saved a whopper of a trip to close it out.

They'll face Orlando on the road Tuesday with the resurgent Magic sitting fourth in the Eastern Conference thanks to last season's Rookie of the Year, Paolo Banchero. Then they'll hop on a flight after the game and ship up to Boston where they'll face the league-leading Celtics on Wednesday.

By the time they arrive back in Minneapolis after the Boston game, the Wolves will have logged nearly 17,000 miles as the crow, and planes, flies during these 16 games.

The miles and the pace of schedule — and contagious illnesses — have caught up with them at various points, as point guard Mike Conley alluded to after Sunday's loss to Dallas.

"I thought the last couple games we played were more like ourselves," Conley said. "We played with a little bit more pop, more energy. I think guys, whether the schedule or whatever, we've been all over the country, flying all over the place. Lot of guys sick, doing all kinds of stuff, so we're just in a weird part of the year where all that stuff just hit us at the right time, and I think we're coming out of that."

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Conley said that even after Sunday's loss, one of the few times this season the Wolves let one get away late. Their victory in Houston on Friday felt like the Wolves who jumped out to the Western Conference's best record. That team will have to show up the next few nights if the Wolves want a chance of a split or sweeping this next pair of games.

"Just got to take the bumps in the road," Anthony Edwards said.

There has been another benefit to this stretch of games, Conley said. The Wolves have played a wide variety of good teams. They've played teams who trended smaller, like Dallas did Sunday, and they've played teams with some size, like New Orleans or the Knicks. Regardless of their record coming out of it, this experience in adapting quickly to different opponents could prove invaluable in the playoffs.

"There's no better opportunity to work on your game and work on different things as far as what teams are going to do to you than in a game," Conley said. "So to see different guys, different styles and players and ways to guard people, the way they guard you, us being able to see that now, I think, will put something in the back of our minds when we see it in the playoffs, later in the year."