Twenty years ago, Timberwolves captivated Minnesota. That group is living vicariously through this playoff run.

Ask anybody who played for the Timberwolves during the 2004 playoff run. They will all say the exact same thing.

Given how physically and mentally imposing superstar power forward Kevin Garnett was at the peak of his game, how accepting every player was of his specific role, how connected that team was on and off the court, the Timberwolves would have won the NBA championship if starting point guard Sam Cassell never got hurt.

“He missed most of the Western Conference Finals and we still ended up competing with the Lakers,” said Fred Hoiberg, the backup shooting guard in 2004, who proved himself as a marksman from long range. “That pretty much says it all.”

“We were playing against Shaq and Kobe without him and we still pushed them,” said Gary Trent, the backup power forward in 2004, who provided a sense of security on the court. “The impact of losing him was too much to overcome.”

“I always think about what could’ve been if we were healthy,” said Wally Szczerbiak, the backup small forward in 2004, who made an impact as a microwave off the bench. “Just wish we could’ve seen it play out with us at full strength.”

Now the group that helped the Timberwolves captivate the fan base during the 2004 playoff run is living vicariously through the 2024 playoff run. There is unfinished business in Minnesota as far as they’re concerned, and while it took 20 years for the Timberwolves to get another shot at it, they are finally back in the Western Conference Finals with everything in front of them.

“They’ve got a perfect team,” said Trenton Hassell, the starting shooting guard in 2004, who was known for his defense on he perimeter. “They don’t really have any weaknesses, and everybody seems to know their role. That was a lot like us and what made our team successful. It was us against the world every time we stepped on the court.”

There are certainly some similarities when looking at the constitution of the two best versions of the Timberwolves.

While the 2004 playoff run had Garnett leading his teammates into battle on a nightly basis, the 2024 playoff run has Anthony Edwards serving as the heartbeat of the team.

While the 2004 playoff run had Cassell and starting small forward Latrell Sprewell both stepping up in the clutch, the 2024 playoff run has Karl-Anthony Towns consistently taking his game to the next level.

While the 2004 playoff run had reserves like Szczerbiak and others filling in the cracks, the 2024 playoff run has a much deeper cast of contributors that includes Rudy Gobert, Jaden McDaniels and Mike Conley rounding out the starting lineup, with Naz Reid chipping in off the bench.

Maybe the most striking resemblance, however, is the intangible vibes of both versions of the Timberwolves.

The players genuinely seemed to enjoy playing with each other during the 2004 playoff run.

The players genuinely seem to enjoy playing with each other during the 2024 playoff run.

“You need that,” said Ervin Johnson, the starting center in 2004, who took pride in the dirty work down low. “You can’t win without it.”

Though the Timberwolves didn’t punctuate things 20 years ago with an NBA championship, they still gave Minnesota a month and a half it will never forget.

“It was insane,” said Mark Madsen, a backup power forward in 2004, who became a folk hero because of his energy off the bench.

“We couldn’t go anywhere without people coming up to us. There are some teams that belong to whatever city they are in. You look at the Timberwolves and they belong to the state.”

The fan base has spent 20 years patiently waiting for another team to capture their collective consciousness. The road has been filled with ups and downs and twists and turns along the way. All leading to this moment where everybody is behind the Timberwolves once again.

“Those are some good people in Minnesota,” Hassell said. “They deserve a title. They’ve been through a lot over the last 20 years. I’m glad this is happening for them.”

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