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Season's Greetings from Target Center, aka the happiest place in America

The Timberwolves sent the Lakers packing, and a sold-out crowd home happy.

The howling started as the Green Line lurched through downtown Minneapolis Thursday night but made a beeline for the moon as the dude-bro train strolled into Target Center fully liquored and full of lofty expectations. 

’Tis the season for peacocking among Timberwolves fans starved for something to believe in, and why not? There so much to revel in Minnesota’s scorching start and overdue reckoning. 

The West-leading Wolves (21-6) are tied with the Boston Celtics atop the NBA standings and should expect a bounty when Santa climbs down their collective chimneys Monday. 

It is a rarified perch that already has rewritten the franchise record book for proficiency while raising the bar of expectations to levels not seen in these parts since Kevin Garnett, Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell marched the Wolves into the Western Conference finals 20 years ago.

They are the only team without consecutive losses this season, and their 118-111 takedown of the Los Angeles Lakers left them lamenting how much more methodical it could have been.

All five starters finished with double-digits in scoring as Minnesota woke up from its second- and third-quarter nap in time to put the Lakers to sleep with another tough defensive performance that nonetheless left coach Chris Finch picking nits like the Grinch.

"That’s one of those games where if it goes three more minutes, we may lose it," he said. "We got the win, and that’s what mattered, but we’ve got to figure out that we had a chance to put this game away many times, and we didn’t."

Bah humbug. Though demanding more from a win is a clear sign of a maturing and confident team that knows it is building something special in a forlorn basketball market that so deserves this renaissance.

Dec 21, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards (5) celebrates after making a shot against the Los Angeles Lakers in the second half at Target Center.

Dec 21, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards (5) celebrates after making a shot against the Los Angeles Lakers in the second half at Target Center.

Wolves tickets are the hottest in town. So hot their dynamic pricing raked in more gross revenue against the perennial top-draw Lakers than any game in team history – even with Los Angeles icon LeBron James in a stocking cap and hoodie nursing an ankle injury.

Their routinely sold-out arena is the place to be and to be seen, leveraging the NBA’s glitterati-industrial complex for cool vibes that are more genuine than generic.

There were Vikings superstar Justin Jefferson and fellow wideout K.J. Osborn decked out in courtside seats and posing for fan selfies like Jack Nicholson and Dyan Cannon mugging for the cameras at the old Forum.

An NFL Films crew with multiple cameras and boom mics followed Jefferson postgame through the corridors as he and Osborn entertained a gaggle of starstruck children and bystanders.

A few feet away stood Alex Rodriguez looking dapper in a designer suit and grinning ear to ear with the look of an incoming owner inheriting a relevant and valuable product.

Minnesota is 12-1 at home and has sold every seat to date. With 36.2 seconds remaining and victory finally at hand, the 18,024 rose en masse to salute their squad and poured out into the Warehouse District with chests puffed and appetites satiated. 

Anthony Edwards had 27 points and Karl-Anthony Towns added 21 before limping to the locker room with a lower-leg injury with five minutes remaining in the third quarter, although Finch was not sounding any alarm bells afterward. 

“It was kind of a bang he took early in the second half. I don’t have any update. Hopefully not too serious,” he said.

Mike Conley finished with 16 points, eight assists and two of the team’s 13 steals and Rudy Gobert had 15 points and 13 rebounds as the Wolves rallied from a 14-point loss Wednesday at Philadelphia.

The slumping Lakers, who are 1-5 since winning the inaugural NBA In-Season Tournament in Las Vegas, had no answer for Minnesota’s versatile attack or energy. 

The Wolves’ top-ranked defense held L.A. stars D’Angelo Russell and Anthony Davis to a combined 18 for 39 from the floor and forced 17 turnovers.

Conley, the wise guard with 17 years on his NBA resume, lauded Minnesota’s depth and broadening roster of leaders who are crafting new, unpredictable ways to win games that routinely used to slip away. 

“I don’t think I’ve been on a team that has that many ways of attacking you,” he said. “We can run. We can play slow. We can grind out a defensive game, and I think that bodes well for the playoff-style basketball. So we’re preparing for that, ultimately. We’ve still got a way to go, obviously, but we’re working toward that.”

Imagine that. The Wolves talking playoffs in December as a fait accompli instead of an elusive North Star that reveals itself every decade or so. “This is the season I’ve been waiting my whole life for,” uttered one fan treated to a seat at Finch’s postgame news conference. 

The kid barely looked 20.

Get in line, son.