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Timberwolves should be fun team to watch

ne game into the NBA season, it's still unclear exactly how many more wins, if any, will be seen at Target Center this year.

What is apparent, however, is that the Minnesota Timberwolves will be more fun to watch than they have been since they made that surprising run to the Western Conference finals in 2004.

The years that followed that exhilarating team that finished with the No. 1 seed in the powerful West -- and quite possibly would have beaten the Lakers to get to the final round had point guard Sam Cassell not been injured -- have not been pretty.

What followed were three final years of the Kevin Garnett Era gashed by infighting and jealousy in the locker room and lackluster effort by anyone not wearing No. 21 on the court. No playoff appearances, only races to the lottery.

So things got blown up before last season, and the new, younger version of the Timberwolves were equally ugly for much of last season. They limped off to a 5-34 start and finished 22-60.

There were sloppy turnovers, ghastly shot selections and no defense at all for at least three-quarters of the season. The Wolves had nine separate losing streaks of at least five games.

For all we know, there could just as many losing skids ahead in Year Two of the rebuilding program, though all signs seem to indicate that the worst is behind them.

Their season-opening victory over the Sacramento Kings, a 98-96 squeaker against what is expected to be one of the worst teams in the league this season, didn't exactly inflate a home arena sprinkled with empty seats on Wednesday night.

But what it did show is that this version of the Timberwolves will play an up-tempo, more aesthetically pleasing brand of basketball.

For most of the game, the Wolves were downright impressive on offense. They drove to the basket aggressively, got out on the break for uncontested dunks and shot a high percentage from the floor.

The scoring was spread around with six players posting double figures, a refreshing change from most of last season when it was Al Jefferson and everybody else.

They shared the ball, pushed the ball and got up and down in a fast-paced game.

And when examining the roster, there are many attractive elements that add up to an enjoyable team to watch.

--Perimeter shooting. The Wolves have three players (Rashad McCants, Mike Miller and Randy Foye) who shoot better than 40 percent from 3-point range.

--Athletic swingmen. Corey Brewer and Rodney Carney may not be the best shooters in the world, but they can get out on the break and run and are not afraid to throw down a big dunk in transition.

--Crafty big men. Kevin Love had an efficient debut and watching Jefferson go to work on the low block is like turning on ESPN Classic and seeing a throwback game from the Golden Age of basketball.

The only low spot offensively was a putrid 11-for-22 performance at the free throw line that kept the Kings in the game. With sharp shooters like Miller and Foye uncharacteristically clanking the freebies, that is unlikely to happen again.

Defensively, there is still a long way for this team to go. John Salmons had his way on the perimeter and Spencer Hawes and Jason Thompson got open shots and rebounds underneath all night long.

Those downfalls may prevent the Wolves from taking a quantum leap forward this year in the win column, but like the high-scoring and frequent-losing Denver Nuggets of the 1980s, they should be a delight to watch, especially in comparison to the doldrums that have driven fans away from the Target Center in droves over the last four years.

Coach Randy Wittman wants a more free-flowing team that doesn't walk the ball up the court and doesn't need him to call every offensive set.

With another year in the system under their belts, Foye and Sebastian Telfair should have an easier time making that happen as opposed to last year, when they often could be seen looking across the court for guidance from their coach.

All that said, a playoff run is still unlikely in the West this season. But the losses that will eventually come should arrive in far more entertaining fashion.

And that's what we call progress.