Wolves are getting serious for the first time in two decades

The Timberwolves hadn't been a serious contender since 2003-04, when MVP Kevin Garnett joined forces with Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell for a glorious run to the Western Conference Finals. If not for a Cassell injury in the playoffs, they very well might have won an NBA title that year.

Not surprisingly, that was the last time until this year that the Wolves felt like a truly serious team. That's a bit of a nebulous term, but it can roughly be translated as a measure of how a team handles its business.

Talent and coaching are required. But can the team create a cohesion that generates the sort of focus needed to grind through 82 regular-season games? And can the team find extra gears in the moments that matter most in the context of games and a season?

The Wolves this year provided ample evidence of their seriousness. If there were any lingering doubts, they were dispatched as quickly as the Suns were in a four-game first-round sweep — something I talked about on Friday's Daily Delivery podcast.

The aftermath of that trip to the Western Conference finals and the nearly two decades that preceded this year should make long-suffering fans grateful for where things are now.

The good vibes between KG, Cassell and Sprewell disintegrated in Year 2 of that mix. The Wolves missed the playoffs, and soon enough Garnett was traded to the Celtics while rebuilding purgatory began.

The next 10 years after that ranged from comically bad to overly optimistic. Ricky Rubio, Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic briefly brought joy and professionalism back to Target Center, but even the best versions of that group were not serious.

The Jimmy Butler playoff season was a different lesson in seriousness. The Wolves won 47 games and made the playoffs, but it was a joyless slog that ended quickly in the first round against the Rockets. Tom Thibodeau and Butler took winning seriously, but it was still an unserious culture.

I thought the Wolves were emerging as a serious team a couple years ago when they made the postseason. But their playoff chokes against Memphis told us all that they weren't ready. When one of your emotional leaders is someone who just Thursday night stopped a female reporter from interviewing him because they don't listen to his podcast, you cannot be serious.

A lot of us expected the Wolves to be serious last year after the Rudy Gobert trade, but they constantly underachieved against terrible teams, then punched walls and tried to punch each other while sabotaging any chance they had in the playoffs. That was the most disappointingly unserious bunch of them all.

But this? These 56-win Wolves navigated the regular season and found another gear against Phoenix. They finally understand what it takes, while simultaneously having the talent to achieve it.

How that translates against defending champion Denver, the epitome of seriousness and a team that drew an astute comparison to the Tim Duncan era Spurs from Karl-Anthony Towns this week, remains to be seen.

But Towns, who has seen more than his share of unserious basketball and has been at the core of some of it, has earned the right to say this with a straight face.

"We've just got to play our best," Towns said of how to approach Denver. "We've got to stay disciplined, emotionally disciplined in the game and find a way to win."

That's a serious approach. Now we'll see if it yields serious results.

Here are four more things to know today:

*Also on Friday's podcast, Twins beat writer Phil Miller joined me to talk about the team's 10-game winning streak, Byron Buxton's latest injury and the battle between Comcast and Diamond Sports.

*Minnesota's PWHL team has lost four games in a row but needs just one point in its finale Saturday at New York to clinch a playoff spot. New York is in last place in the six-team league and is the only squad that has been eliminated from the playoff race.

*The Lynx open the preseason Saturday at home against Chicago. Meanwhile, you can watch Caitlin Clark's preseason debut Friday night with Indiana for free.

*Tobias Harris, who will be a free agent this offseason after his historically bad five-year, $180 million deal with the 76ers expires, contributed 0 points on two field goal attempts in 29 minutes as Philadelphia was eliminated 118-115 by the Knicks on Thursday.