By: Dan Slaubaugh
The Minnesota Timberwolves are playing good basketball.
Since the start of play on February 11, they have won four of their past five games. Karl-Anthony Towns is playing like a man who wants an additional 32 million on his max extension (which he will earn if he makes an All-NBA team), Tyus Jones has given them a nice boost since his return, Anthony Tolliver has been Mr. Automatic from deep, and Luol Deng has rose from the ashes to give the Wolves a productive backup wing in the absence of Robert Covington.
Speaking of that man! RoCo is close to returning and currently getting his legs back underneath him practicing with the Timberwolves’ G-League affiliate Iowa Wolves. He will likely return to the NBA hardwood by the end of the week.
Getting Covington back for one last playoff push will be huge and it’s hard not to be excited about his return. When healthy, he impacts the game on both ends like nobody’s business covering up mistakes on defense and providing sharpshooting ability from the perimeter.
Three games behind the Spurs with 21 games to play, the 29-31 Wolves do have a chance, maybe even better than the 5.2 percent the computers at ESPN BPI's playoff odds give them.
So, what will it take for the Wolves to get there?
Win the games you should win
Out of the remaining 21 games, there are only 4 “gimmes” left on the schedule. That includes tonight’s road game at Atlanta, one home and away versus Washington, and a home versus New York. If you want to include games against bad-but-not-terrible teams in Charlotte, Memphis, and Dallas, then there’s seven. But after following the Wolves extensively for a decade now I can’t seem to automatically chalk those up as wins.
Going 6-1 here seems probably necessary.
Stand your ground
The remaining slate is pretty brutal for the Wolves. 15 of the remaining 21 games are versus current playoff teams. The good news, at least, is that eight of those games will be played in the Target Center confines along with two road games at Detroit and Charlotte. That’s 10 out of 15 games that are at home and/or winnable. Going 9-6 here seems probably necessary.
If Minnesota keeps winning and inches closer to a playoff spot, it will be interesting to see if Wolves fans respond and pack Target Center for the final stretch.
As every team needs when fighting for playoff seeding, the Wolves need help from anyone playing the Clippers, Spurs, Kings, and Lakers the rest of the way.
A deeper look at their remaining schedules, color-coated by games corresponding to the level of difficulty (via Reddit’s u/beefrombeemovie).
The good news is the Spurs are struggling right now. The bad news is the Kings aren't. The win over Sacramento Monday night was huge for closing the gap on them, but I still think they're a tad better than Minnesota right now. The Kings making it over the Wolves wouldn't be so bad. They are wildly entertaining, employ a head coach with Minnesota roots, and their fans deserve it.
From what we've seen recently, the Lakers don't deserve to make the playoffs and LeBron James' "activate playoff mode" switch doesn't appear to be working at the moment. Overall, it should be really interesting to see where these teams end up when the fat lady sings.
7. Clippers - 34-28 - +1 GB
8. Spurs - 33-29
9. Kings - 31-29 - 1 GB
10. Wolves - 29-31 - 3 GB
11. Lakers - 29-31 - 3GB
Long term, it'd likely be better for the Wolves to lose more than win the rest of the season as a top 10 draft pick could prove to be a game-changer for the future. However, it's undeniably more fun to root for the playoffs and earn a bid to get walloped in the first round (why that's more fun, I don't know). Whether that’s the wise choice of action or not, that’s what I’ll be doing the remainder of the season. The quest to 44 wins, which might just do it, begins now!
Thanks for reading. Have a wonderful Wednesday. Go Wolves.