MINNEAPOLIS -- An injured team looking to get back on track will face another team surging up the standings in Minnesota.
Who could have guessed the Golden State Warriors and Minnesota Timberwolves would be at this point in early March?
The Timberwolves host Golden State on Friday trying to prove their recent improvement is sustainable. The Warriors are trying to find their way again without injured star Kevin Durant in the lineup.
After handling the Los Angeles Clippers in a 107-91 win on Wednesday at home, Minnesota demonstrated its growth with young stars Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, and steadying point guard Ricky Rubio under coach Tom Thibodeau's guidance.
"We feel like a team that's playing with confidence," Towns said. "I don't know what a playoff team feels like, but my wild guess, I think that right now we are playing with the confidence, we're playing with the demeanor of a playoff team."
The Wolves have won seven of their past 11 games and Thibodeau's defensive approach is starting to take hold in his first season with the team. Minnesota has held its past four opponents -- Sacramento, Utah, San Antonio and Los Angeles -- under 100 points.
According to the team's public relations Twitter account, the Wolves' 97.3 defensive rating since the All-Star break is the best in the NBA. They've allowed the second-fewest points per game in that span, as well as allowing the league's lowest shooting percentage against at 42.4 percent.
The Clippers had 17 turnovers, shot 42.2 percent and were outrebounded 50-36 on Wednesday against Minnesota.
"We're moving in the right direction," Thibodeau said after the game. "The numbers will tell you that. We look at them every day. I believe we're down to 13th now in points allowed. So that's a quantum leap. It's still not where it needs to be. We have to understand that."
The recent stretch for the Wolves (26-37) have brought up conversations not heard in Minnesota in quite some time: reaching the playoffs. The Wolves, who haven't made the postseason since 2004, ended Wednesday 2.5 games behind Denver in eighth place in the Western Conference.
The playoffs were never a question for Golden State, which had its sights set much higher after signing Durant in the offseason to join the core of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.
The Warriors (52-12) hold the top spot in the West, but have lost three of their past five games after losing at home to Boston, 99-86, on Wednesday.
"We're in a tough spot in the schedule, obviously, and with KD's injury," Golden State coach Steve Kerr said. "Everybody goes through this at some point during the season. You just make your way through and let everybody else freak out and panic. You just keep your nose down and keep working, and things work out."
There's plenty left without Durant for the Warriors not to panic. Thompson had 25 points and Curry added 23 in Wednesday's loss to Boston. In the three games Durant has missed, Curry has averaged 26 points and 7.0 assists per game. Thompson has averaged 22.3 points per game.
Of the three losses in the past five games, two were on the road at Washington and Chicago. Golden State had played five road games in a row before losing at home to Boston.
"For whatever reason, we're in a little bit of a funk from 3 right now," Kerr said. "The travel, just all the miles in the air, probably doesn't help. But I'm not worried about that. We've got good shooters. You get through the schedule, recharge, and those shots start going in."
And with 18 games left, the only team that likely has a chance to catch the Warriors at the top of the West is San Antonio, which opens Thursday 1 1/2 games behind. Then Golden State hopes to have Durant back in time for the playoffs.
Durant addressed the media before Wednesday's game but did not put a timetable on his return.
Kerr said, "It would be great if we could get him back the last week of the regular season or so, but we'll have to wait and see."