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The Wolves Aren’t Just Back; They Could Already Be Better Than Ever

The last time the Wolves were atop the Western Conference and near the top of the NBA was in 2003-04. Now 20 years later, they are in a similar spot, but could be even better in 2023-24.

2023 NBA Playoffs - Denver Nuggets v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

We’ve all been hearing it and saying it since the 2023-24 NBA season started, and some even longer than that.

“The Wolves are back!”

The Minnesota Timberwolves, in terms of their excitement and winning ways, are indeed back. They are off to the best start in franchise history after putting together the greatest months in the team’s existence to sit atop both the Western Conference the NBA overall with a record of 16-4.

Though “Wolves Back” is becoming common verbiage among the Minnesota fan base — or if you’re like me, overusing the wolf and back emojis — the Wolves aren’t really “back,” because their performance so far is something we’ve never really seen with this franchise.

For example, over the last 34 seasons, Minnesota held the top spot in the Western Conference for a total of 10 days. Following Wednesday’s win over San Antonio, the Wolves have held that spot for 17 days and counting.

Along with that, Minnesota is right at the top of the NBA standings, as mentioned. Yes, it’s still early. There is plenty of the season yet to play. But who can remember the last time this happened?

The most recent team that comes to mind is the 2003-04 Wolves team led by Kevin Garnett, Latrell Sprewell, Sam Cassell and company with Flip Saunders leading things on the bench.

In honor of the West-leading team in 2023-24, let’s take a trip down memory land and look back at that team in 2003-04.

The 2003-04 Minnesota Timberwolves

The 2003-04 campaign was one of the most memorable seasons for Wolves fans, a year that many thought was Minnesota’s time to finally reach the NBA Finals.

During the regular season, the Wolves finished with a record of 58-24, the best record in franchise history and the only time Minnesota sat atop the West at the end of the year (not including the Minneapolis Lakers days). The Wolves didn’t own the NBA’s best record that season, finishing behind the league-leading Indiana Pacers with a record of 61-21.

Kings v Timberwolves Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Minnesota finished that season strong, heading into the franchise’s eighth straight playoff appearance with nine straight wins to lock up the top seed in the West ahead of San Antonio (57-25), Los Angeles (56-26) and Sacramento (55-27). That season, the Wolves saw season-long winning streaks of 14 games straight at home and six straight on the road to surge atop the league standings.

In the postseason, well, many Wolves fans remember that run. Minnesota went on to advance to the Western Conference Finals — the farthest the franchise has ever advanced beyond the first round of the playoffs. The Wolves breezed past Denver 4-1 in the opening round to win the first postseason series in franchise history, going on to top Sacramento 4-3 to reach the Western Conference Finals.

In the Conference Finals, Minnesota faced Los Angeles, a series that went back and forth — and one that many fans still believe that the Wolves were the better team in — only to see the Lakers edge the Wolves 4-2, later falling 4-1 to Detroit in the NBA Finals.

Throughout the regular season, the Wolves were led by none other than KG, who averaged an impressive 24.2 points, 13.9 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 2.2 blocks and 1.5 steals over 39.4 (!!) minutes in all 82 games and took home the 2003-04 NBA MVP award. Outside of The Big Ticket, Cassell added 19.8 points and 7.3 assists, Sprewell averaged 16.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists and Wally Szczerbiak posted 10.2 points and 3.1 rebounds per game.

Kings v Timberwolves Photo By David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

That 2003-04 season was a memorable one and one that gives all Wolves fans hope that it can be done again, both the excitement surrounding the team and the deep postseason run.

Fast forward to the current NBA season, this Wolves team gives fans a similar sense of excitement. And they are on pace to not only put together a similar regular season but perhaps surpass that mark while trying to return to the West and the NBA like 20 years ago.

The Wolves are back. And not only are they back, but they could be even better than ever before in 2023-24.