The Minnesota Timberwolves came out of the All-Star break with a 104-91 victory over the Eastern Conference-leading Indiana Pacers on Wednesday night, so the possibility for a let down on the road Saturday night against the 19-35 Utah Jazz could not be ignored. But they were able to sustain a lead throughout the game, and leave EnergySolutions Arena with 121-104 victory.
The Timberwolves remained without two of their top three scorers (Nikola Pekovic, Kevin Martin) on Saturday night, but All-Star starter Kevin Love again led the way with 37 points (6-for-10 on three-pointers), 12 rebounds and 10 assists for the first triple-double of his career. Four others scored in double figures for Minnesota, led by Ricky Rubio (15 points, seven assists and six rebounds), and rookie center Gorgui Dieng had the best game of his young career with eight points, eight rebounds and three blocked shots.
Saturday night’s win is a good start to a five-game road trip for the Timberwolves, as they attempt to get above .500 and stay relevant in the Western Conference playoff race. Things will be tougher in the second leg of a back-to-back Sunday night, even though the Portland Trailblazers are without star forward LaMarcus Aldridge (groin). After that the Timberwolves will take on the surprising Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night, the Sacramento Kings on March 1 and the Denver Nuggets on March 3 to wrap up what can best be described as the team’s most critical handful of games if they hope to maintain any chance at a playoff berth.
Things will get easier for the Timberwolves after this road trip, with five straight games against Eastern Conference teams and the first four of those games coming at home. So they could string together some wins over the next three weeks during a softer part of the schedule, and give themselves a chance to put a dent in the six-game lead the Dallas Mavericks currently have on them for the eighth seed in the West.
If Pekovic and Martin are able to return soon that will obviously help things, but Love has responded to the most recent speculation about his future in a big way over the last few games and he is the key to any looming playoff push the Timberwolves are able to make.
Brad Berreman is a Senior Writer at Rant Sports.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradberreman24.