This was a tremendous winter for the Timberwolves to come back as a relevant member of the NBA. The lockout was settled in time to salvage a Christmas Day start and to put together a compact 66-game schedule.

Even with the physical burden placed on the athletes, the NBA was able to regain quickly the excitement level that carried through the playoffs and concluded with the Dallas Mavericks' upset of the Miami Heat.

We hardly noticed here in Minnesota how good the NBA had gotten again, what with the Timberwolves' seven-year descent to oblivion -- from the Western Conference finals in 2004 to a combined 32-102 record over the prior two seasons.

David Kahn, the president of basketball, made good on his promise to get Ricky Rubio signed, and the Wolves hired future Hall of Famer Rick Adelman as coach, and Kevin Love showed up looking like he was ready to fight Russell Crowe in "Gladiator,'' and the NBA was back in Minnesota.

On Friday night, the Lakers were at Target Center, and this was truly a sellout, with fans stacked to the top in every corner of the arena.

A few minutes before tipoff, it became known Love would miss the game because of back spasms. And yet the Wolves, with Nikola Pekovic and rookie Derrick Williams waging a noble battle against all that Lakers size, and with lean Luke Ridnour and Martell Webster taking shifts against Kobe Bryant, the home team was able to keep the customers enthralled all night.