It would be positively un-American to feel unkindly toward the Minnesota Timberwolves.

They are, after all, the essence of what has made this country great: a group of individuals who, after years of adversity, pulled themselves up by their bootstraps - or some straps, anyway - to earn their first berth in that great NBA paradise, the playoffs.And the Timberwolves - tonight's Utah Jazz opponent at the Delta Center - have done it by buying into old-fashioned values, the kind of hoops doctrine espoused by the Jazz and coach Jerry Sloan. Under the tutelage of coach Flip Saunders and Kevin McHale, former Boston Celtics great and now Minnesota's vice president of basketball operations, the Timberwolves have developed a new attitude, a new work ethic, a new chemistry.

Needless to say, they're all tickled about being part of the franchise's first postseason experience.

"This is so exciting, I can't even explain it," said point guard Stephon Marbury, as quoted in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "To know where the Timberwolves were, and where they're going, it's just a unique and special feeling."

Veteran Doug West, who was a second-round pick of the Timberwolves in their inaugural season and is the last remaining member of that team, said, "I've been through a lot of ups and downs with this organization, but I never said never. People might say this is somewhat of a reward for me. I really don't see it that way. This is something we earned as a team."

"For the first time, we feel like we're a part of the NBA," Saunders said. "All the other years, this team would play the 82-game schedule and then watch everbody else keep on going. Tonight I hope we exorcised all the past demons."

In all their exuberance over reaching the playoffs, however, the Timberwolves promptly went out and produced some mixed performances. They beat the Heat in Miami for the first time since 1991, then came home and were blown out by lowly Dallas.

Still, it's hard to put a damper on an eight-year build-up of enthusiasm.

As West put it, "The only thing better than this was the birth of my son."