MINNEAPOLIS – The downtrodden Timberwolves faithful rose to their feet and roared like they rarely have done all season, saluting Kevin Love for being one of the few reasons to keep coming to Target Center during another long, miserable basketball winter in Minnesota.
Love raised his hand and thanked the crowd, who delivered a standing ovation Monday night when he recorded his 51st consecutive double-double, which ties him with Moses Malone for the longest such streak since the NBA and ABA merged in 1976.
Through another season filled with losing — the Timberwolves have lost a Western Conference-worst 50 games this season — watching Love try to keep his historic streak going has become the primary draw for this struggling franchise.
One more double-double against Indiana on Wednesday night and he will surpass Malone, who had 51 over two seasons in 1978-79.
"It's a heck of an accomplishment to be that consistent and put up the kind of numbers he's been putting up," Timberwolves coach Kurt Rambis said Wednesday. "It's very, very difficult to do that kind of thing so it's nice to be rewarded with that standing ovation."
Love's streak started on Nov. 22 against Oklahoma City and has endured despite opponents doing everything in their power to keep him in check. He's had guards crashing the boards behind him, centers trying to knock a potential rebound out of bounds rather than let him get it and forwards take it to him on the defensive end to try and wear him down.
"Amazing. Amazing. Amazing," Dallas All-Star Dirk Nowitzki said after watching Love put up 23 points and 17 rebounds in the Mavericks' 108-105 victory on Monday. "Fifty-one in a row is unbelievable. He just has a great knack for the ball. He's got great hands. He's got a low center of gravity. He's a beast out there. He's going to be fun to watch for a long time."
There have been some close calls — 12 points and 12 rebounds at Dallas on Dec. 1, 12 points and 10 boards at the Clippers on Dec. 20 and a 10-point, 10-rebound squeaker against Memphis on Feb. 2.
But for the most part, Love has been posting no-doubters all season long. He had 37 points and 23 rebounds against Golden State on Feb. 27, 31 and 21 against the Thunder on Jan. 26 and 43 and 17 at Denver on Dec. 18.
He has 11 games with at least 20 points and 20 rebounds, including a 31-point, 31-rebound game against the Knicks that came before the streak started.
"It's a joke he's doing it so easy," Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. "Unless he gets hurt I don't see anyone stopping it anytime soon."
Love missed practice on Tuesday to get an MRI on his left knee after falling and banging it on the floor against the Mavericks. The tests showed just a bruise and the team listed him as day-to-day.
In other words, the Pacers shouldn't get their hopes up.
"I'd be jumping for joy if we were winning and everybody was playing great including myself," Love said after the loss to the Mavericks dropped the Wolves to 15-50 this season. "I'm just going out there and playing hard and it is just kind of happening for me. But it is kind of an afterthought because we aren't winning."
The Timberwolves have won just 11 times during Love's incredible streak, and Lakers coach Phil Jackson tweaked the young All-Star before a game last week.
"He's a guy that really goes after rebounds, gets all the missed free throws and the ones at the end of quarters," Jackson said with plenty of sarcasm. "He gets a lot of numbers. It's quite significant."
Yet most coaches in the NBA speak in glowing references about Love, whose production is based largely on effort, guile and instincts and little on athletic ability.
"You just don't see that today and that's what's remarkable about it and is so gratifying to me; that there is a guy that is kind of old school," Charlotte coach Paul Silas said. "Rebounding is important. Everybody today is about scoring and that kind of thing. But rebounding is something unusual."
Love's doing them both, averaging 20.9 points and 15.8 rebounds per game.
"You're not going to stop his streak," Kobe Bryant said. "The ball just doesn't bounce his way for 48 minutes, that will stop it. But if the ball's somewhere around him, he's going to get it."
If he does it again on Wednesday night, perhaps there will be another standing ovation, another impressive reception, another wave to the crowd that has embraced him like no other Timberwolves player since Kevin Garnett.
Love just wishes those cheers were coming for wins, not numbers.
"It felt great to have the crowd on their feet, such a great ovation," Love said. "It's one of those moments where you pinch yourself to see if it's real.
"The Target Center, all the fans, the Twin Cities, all of Minnesota have been great all year. They've had our backs. I can't imagine what it's going to be like when we really start winning and turn that corner."