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When Love, Timberwolves return from break, reality is a playoff spot still a long shot

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MINNEAPOLIS - Kevin Love left the Minnesota Timberwolves for a weekend in New Orleans, the NBA All-Star game and accompanying festivities providing a brief-but-not-relaxing break from a frustrating season that has been both taxing on many levels.

That appearance in the playoffs this star-crossed franchise hasn't enjoyed in 10 years has proven elusive still, despite what's widely considered the most talented roster assembled by the Wolves since that last run. That team, led by Kevin Garnett, Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell, remains the only one in 25 years that ever won a playoff series.

This edition, beset by leaky defence, unreliable outside shooting and a lack of chemistry including a fluctuating playing rotation for the fourth quarter in tight games, has not come close to suggesting it's capable of repeating that feat.

"There's still a chance for a nice push. We just have to go out there and we have to take it. Hopefully that will be the case," Love said.

Coach Rick Adelman was asked this week if the Wolves have enough collective mental toughness to mount a legitimate turnaround over the next two months.

"We better. I can't really answer that question," Adelman said. "That's just something we'll have to see. ... I think these people have certainly proven they can go out and win."

With their 27-point win over Denver on Wednesday, the Wolves (25-28) moved into 10th place in the Western Conference.

"We do have a lot of work to do, and we have to be more conscious. But that's the way to do it," point guard Ricky Rubio said, reflecting on the all-around aggressiveness that propelled the Wolves to victory.

They're still six games behind the last two teams above the cut, Phoenix (30-21) and Golden State (31-22), and Memphis (29-23) has a comfortable lead over them too. The harsh reality, then, is that Minnesota must finish 23-6 in these last 29 games to make the playoffs if the teams ahead of them continue to win at the same rate.

"It's going to be hard, but we've got a chance," backup point guard J.J. Barea said. "If we're going to make a run, it's got to be right when we get back."

The post-break schedule starts with a matchup against Eastern Conference-leading Indiana, followed by a five-game road trip. Only two of the opponents (Portland and Phoenix) are in line for playoff spots, but the Wolves are 10-17 on the road this season. Only three Western Conference teams are worse.

"We know where we stand," Adelman said.

The skepticism about how long he will stay with this renovation project has increased this season. Asked after the game on Wednesday about how much work is still ahead of this team if it's going to make the playoffs, Adelman responded in a dismissive, curmudgeonly manner that's not uncommon for the 67-year-old coach. The health of his wife, who has a history with seizures, certainly was on his mind this week, too, after missing a game on Monday to be with her.

But these words won't quell the questions about his emotional investment in the long-term future of the franchise: "I don't focus on anything in the future," Adelman said. "I focus on the break and taking a break."

The break was welcomed by the Wolves, looking forward to the likelihood that centre Nikola Pekovic (right ankle bursitis) will be back right after it and guard Kevin Martin (broken left thumb) will return soon after him.

"We just need to be together," Love said. "Hopefully that will push us over the top."

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