Sunday night, the Timberwolves brought the Target Center crowd to its feet during a dramatic victory that ended a losing streak and kept them on pace for the fourth seed in the Western Conference.
That the victory came against a lousy Sacramento team shouldn’t matter, not when you haven’t had a winning season since Ndudi Ebi was in uniform.
What matters in our marketplace is that the Timberwolves have a chance to become the No. 1 sporting attraction in Minnesota for the next couple of months, and they didn’t choke.
Forgive them if they’re not sure how to walk across this stage without tripping. They’re used to wearing banana peels as slippers.
The Vikings rule Minnesota sports, as we were reminded the past five months. The Twins can temporarily challenge that status with a dramatic pennant race or stirring fall.
The Wild has stolen eyeballs during the playoffs, and there is an unproven theory among alums that a great Gophers basketball or football season would steal hearts. The Lynx represent the best of Minnesota sports this decade but have yet to achieve mainstream popularity.
The path to popularity is clear. The Wolves have their best team since ownership insulted Latrell Sprewell with a contract offer of $21 million that in no way could have fed Sprewell’s family.
The stage became theirs when the Vikings folded and the Super Bowl concluded. The Wolves entered Sunday’s game 0-2 since the Eagles’ last hit on Tom Brady.
The 111-106 victory over Sacramento leaves the Wolves at 35-24 and preparing for Houston on Tuesday. Jimmy Butler will face James Harden as two teams fight for playoff positioning. These moments don’t come often for the team that plays at Target Center when the Lynx are resting.
For all of the annoying aspects of the Wolves’ season — the road record, the losses to bad Eastern Conference teams, the defensive lapses, the stilted end-of-game offense — we should be careful about too eagerly dissecting this team.
The Wolves are on pace for 49 victories and the fourth seed in the West. If they play well down the stretch, they could even pass the Spurs for the third seed.
Four months ago, those would have been considered impressive accomplishments, so let’s not let details obscure reality.
The Wolves have won 13 straight at home and will pit that streak against a Rockets team that is relentlessly entertaining. Wolves fans like to chant “M-V-P’’ at Butler, but perhaps only Harden or LeBron James, now that the Cavaliers have been revived, has a real chance of winning the award.
Minnesotans’ social-media pessimism toward the first winning Wolves team in a decade and a half extends even to moves the Wolves have yet to make.
Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau is reportedly interested in picking up his former Bulls point guard, Derrick Rose. This has caused the gnashing of teeth. It shouldn’t.
Signing Rose as a big-money free agent, or trading important assets for him, would be concerning.
Picking him up off waivers or signing him as a free agent? That’s a no-risk proposition for a team that is not exactly overloaded with talent at the end of the bench.
Thibodeau has brought two former Bulls to Minnesota — Butler and Taj Gibson. Both have been better than anyone could have expected, as players and personalities.
Can we give Thibs the benefit of the doubt on a no-risk former star with whom he is familiar?
If Rose is wearing Wolves blue on Tuesday, he’ll see the first attention-grabbing February game at Target Center in years.
“For us, I want to keep building,’’ Thibodeau said. “And there’s a lot of things that we have to work on and improve upon. Certainly the challenge that they present will be good for us to measure where we are.’’
Harden is helping the Rockets challenge the Warriors for the first seed in the West. Butler is pushing the Wolves toward the top of the West. Tuesday, we’ll see two players who are proving that a star with his mind right can transform a franchise.
Maybe we should try to enjoy this.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MalePatternPodcasts.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. • firstname.lastname@example.org