The Atlanta Hawks have been in rebuilding mode for nine years, but they're finally starting to show some life. It seems the Minnesota Timberwolves might have a long wait ahead of them, as well.
In the midst of a three-game homestand, the Hawks look to win their fourth straight against the lowly Timberwolves when the teams conclude their season series Thursday night.
Atlanta (7-10) has been a perennial league doormat since it made its last playoff appearance in 1999, but it has shown signs of being a playoff contender this season.
The Hawks had won four of six before losing 106-95 to a red-hot Detroit team Tuesday. They'll look to bounce back against league-worst Minnesota (2-14), which hasn't won in this series since an 84-83 victory on April 9, 2006.
The Timberwolves, who lost to the Hawks 94-87 on Nov. 24, may be on their way to one of the worst seasons in franchise history. They have been banged up all season, and that hasn't helped matters during what was expected to be a difficult year after Kevin Garnett was dealt to Boston.
Minnesota's record has gotten worse every season since 2003-04, when it lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in the conference finals in its last playoff appearance.
A 116-95 loss to the Lakers on Tuesday night was the Wolves' fourth straight defeat. They have allowed an average of 110.0 points in that span.
Minnesota has lost its last three games by a combined 65 points, losing by 29 at Memphis on Saturday and by 15 to San Antonio on Friday. It's an unsettling trend for a team that had at least been showing plenty of effort in every game.
"That's one of the best things about this team and we're at our best when we come out and play hard and we give all our effort and we didn't do that," Wolves point guard Sebastian Telfair said following Tuesday's game.
Minnesota also may again be without coach Randy Wittman, who is out indefinitely following back surgery Wednesday. Jerry Sichting filled in Tuesday, and will be the acting coach until Wittman returns.
Now the Wolves will face a Hawks' team that held seven straight opponents under 100 points before its matchup with the Pistons.
Atlanta had trouble finding other scoring options in the loss to Detroit, with Joe Johnson being held to five points. His team-leading scoring average dropped a full point from 21.7 to 20.7, as he finished with his lowest total since he had five at Memphis on April 2, 2006.
"I probably have to do a better job of putting him in better positions to score the basketball," Hawks coach Mike Woodson said. "Teams are going to key in on Joe. When that happens, he basically has to be a decoy and work to get other people the ball, and be a playmaker at that particular time."
Johnson led all scorers with 25 points in Atlanta's first matchup with Minnesota this season. Al Jefferson led the Wolves with 23 points and 16 rebounds.