Paced by star Kevin Love and a blossoming group of guards, the Minnesota Timberwolves are making strides in a positive direction even though their record might tell a different story.
The Timberwolves look for a second straight victory when they host the struggling Detroit Pistons on Wednesday night.
Minnesota (5-8) might not be ready to seriously contend for a playoff spot in the perennially tough Western Conference, but things appear to be looking up for a franchise that won a combined 32 games over the previous two seasons.
Last season it took the Timberwolves 23 games to record six victories but with the lowly Pistons (3-11) in town, Minnesota has a very good chance to reach that mark much sooner. Love had 33 points with 11 rebounds, Luke Ridnour added 25 with nine assists and rookie Ricky Rubio chipped in nine, eight assists and eight rebounds as Minnesota beat Sacramento 99-86 for its second victory in three games Tuesday.
"We're just helping each other," reserve guard Wayne Ellington told the Timberwolves' official website after he scored 15 on Tuesday.
Averaging a career-high 25.6 points with 14.3 rebounds, Love is the first player since Hakeem Olajuwon in 1992 to start the season with 13 straight double-doubles. He's totaled 97 points while scoring at least 30 in three straight games for the first time in his career.
"My teammates have really set me up; they've set me up well," said Love, who has a Jan. 25 deadline for the Timberwolves to extend his contract. "I'm getting in a good rhythm."
Love totaled 47 points and 38 rebounds while the Timberwolves won both meetings with the Pistons last season.
Ridnour, Rubio and Ellington have made up a solid guard trio to compliment Love and eventually injured forward Michael Beasley (12.9 points per game), who could miss a seventh straight game with a sprained foot.
Averaging a career-high 12.9 points while ranking among the NBA leaders shooting 52.4 percent, Ridnour has moved to shooting guard with Rubio now starting at the point. Ridnour had 20 and 10 assists in a 109-99 home win over Detroit on Dec. 10, 2010.
"He shoots the ball very well,'' said Rubio, averaging 10.8 points and 8.3 assists. "I never see him missing a jump shot."
The play of Ridnour and Rubio on the defensive end also is a big reason Minnesota is giving up 93.1 points per game compared to the 107.7 opponents averaged in 2010-11.
That defensive improvement might not bode well for Detroit, which averages an NBA-low 85.0 points per contest. The Pistons shot 41.0 percent and committed 20 turnovers in a 97-80 loss at Houston on Tuesday. They also allowed the Rockets to shoot 49.4 percent from the field.
"We have to defend, rebound and keep down our turnovers," said Pistons coach Lawrence Frank, whose team has dropped eight of nine overall. "We did parts of those things, at times (Tuesday).''
Tayshaun Prince scored 20 points as the Pistons fell to 1-6 on the road. Prince has scored 20 in two straight games, but has reached that mark just once in nine career games at Minnesota.