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Healthy Wolves should provide wins

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Timberwolves mascot Crunch ran through the crowd high-fiving kids at a basketball clinic held in Rochester on Tuesday.
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Chase Budinger, Dante Cunningham and Shawn Respert share the same No. 1 wish when it comes to the Timberwolves.

In fact, if there were a season-starting toast from the Wolves and their coaches, it would ring out: "To our health!"

A healthy Wolves team, they are sure, is also a winning and playoff-bound one. They know all too well what a gimpy Wolves team looks like. It's not pretty. Minnesota — devastated by a rash of injuries big and small last year — limped to a 31-51 record.

That after beginning the season uttering the P-word. Yes, the franchise started with enough pieces in place in 2012-13 to be thinking about making the playoffs for the first time in nine years.

But then Kevin Love was lost for the season with a hand injury, Ricky Rubio didn't show his magic until March as he recovered from a knee injury, Budinger was lost for the season in November with a knee injury, Brandon Roy essentially never played because of bad knees, and Nikola Pekovic and Andrei Kirilenko missed a pile of games with an assortment of injuries.

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So, when asked what it's going to take to reach the playoffs, Budinger didn't hesitate. Budinger, teammate Cunningham, and Wolves player development coach Shawn Respert were at the Rochester YMCA Tuesday morning as part of the Timberwolves Caravan, putting on a clinic for kids.

"We need to stay healthy," said Budinger, a 6-7 guard/small forward who is 95 percent healed from his knee injury. "We all knew that we could have had a really good season a year ago had we not been hit so hard by injuries."

Optimistic, for now. . .

Now, the team feels even better about itself than it did to begin last season. That comes in large part because Love and Rubio are 100 percent healthy, and Budinger is close. But it also comes because for the first time in franchise history, the team has a bona-fide shooting guard.

Management made that happen this off-season with the acquisition of free-agent Kevin Martin. After shooting a league-worst 30.5 percent from 3-point range a year ago, and starting the vastly undersized Luke Rindour at shooting guard, the 30-year-old Martin looks like manna from the heavens. He's 6-feet-7, has averaged 18 points over his career, and shot 42.6 percent last year from 3-point distance.

Martin is also intimately familiar with Wolves coach Rick Adelman's system, having played for him at Sacramento and Houston. Adelman, a future coaching Hall of Famer, was so pleased to have Martin back that the normally stoic 67-year-old engulfed him in a hug when Martin signed with the team last month.

Respert has been around Martin enough (he was on Adelman's staff in Houston) that he also is wearing a large smile these days.

"In Houston, we were ranked 17th in scoring before we went out and got Martin," Respert said. "After we got him, we were eighth in scoring, and later third best in the league. Kevin has a really smooth game. He's going to really help us."

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On a team now filled with finesse players and scorers, the 6-8, 230-pound Cunningham brings a skill set that is otherwise mostly missing for the Wolves. His calling cards are his defense and grit, something new acquisition Corey Brewer should also bring at small forward.

They're going to need them to set that gritty tone if they are to not only make the playoffs, but make some noise once there.

"We have a lot of great players," Cunningham said. "But what I try to do is play with energy and just bring whatever coach needs. Whatever he needs, I'll do."

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Timberwolves player Dante Cunningham directs a pair of young basketball players during a passing drill during a basketball clinic at the YMCA in Rochester on Tuesday.

Related Topics: BASKETBALL
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