By: Dan Slaubaugh
Well, here we are. Three games back of the eighth and final playoff spot with 20 games to play.
The Wolves might be just two games separating the Wolves and the Nuggets if head coach Tom Thibodeau opted to have the offense run through Karl-Anthony Towns in crunch time Saturday night in San Antonio, but he didn't. Instead, he chose Andrew Wiggins to lead the team with the best defender in the league, Kawhi Leonard, draped all over him.
I don't understand the rational here. You have to play by the matchup and understand the situation. Let Wiggins close against the 28 other teams, just not against Leonard. That's why you have two dynamic scorers, so you can go to either one. KAT was the better, more efficient option Saturday night. These fans are desperate and want the playoffs now, not to just keep developing Wiggins by making him attack a brick wall time after time with minimal success. Thibs blew it.
Hate it or love it, those are my thoughts on what transpired in San Antonio and I felt compelled to share them.
The Wolves (25-37, 12th in West) open a three-game home stand tonight versus the Portland Trail Blazers (26-35, 9th in West). It's essential to knock off teams that are above you in the standings -- especially this late in the season. Therefore, this is a must-win game for Minnesota if they want to remain in the playoff hunt.
The Blazers are a very interesting team. After locking themselves in for roughly 350 million dollars worth of contracts this past offseason, they've found themselves in the middle of the pack. However, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are almost as good a backcourt you will find offensively, so they're going to compete. The defense is where the problem lies, ranking 26th in opponents points per game (110.2) and 27th in defensive efficiency (109.5). They head into tonight's game off of two straight wins over Oklahoma City and Brooklyn, respectively.
Come Wednesday, the Clippers will roll into town. The return of Chris Paul from a left thumb injury has put everyone back into their original roles, but it also has left the reserves struggling to adjust. In last Friday's loss at Milwaukee, the Clippers +/- numbers were as follows: Austin Rivers was a minus-28, Jamal Crawford was a minus-25, Mareese Speights was a minus-15 and Raymond Felton was a minus-14. If the Wolves bench can have a big game Wednesday, they'll have a real chance at a win.
To finish off the home stand Friday, the Wolves will play host to the Golden State Warriors, otherwise known as the "super team". Personally, I think they have a fairly decent shot Friday night simply because the Warriors defense is going to take a significant hit with Kevin Durant out. They've lost two of their past three (road losses at Washington and Chicago), but obviously still have elite firepower on both ends. If the Wolves can replicate their performance from the Saturday night's loss, they have a shot. Regardless, this is going to take a total team effort and 48 minutes of focus for the Wolves to walk away victorious in this game.
The Wolves playoff chances took a hit after the loss in San Antonio, but both the numbers and the eye test suggest they seem to be figuring it out. Their defense has been elite over the past few weeks, holding five of their last six opponents under 45% from the floor. Holding the Spurs (#6 in offensive efficiency) to just 97 points through overtime cemented their progression.
The upcoming week of basketball is perhaps the franchise's most important in the past decade. Although that is more of a testament of their yearly putridness, it's still a sign that things are moving in a positive direction. With just eight more home games on the schedule, Wolves fans will want to pile into Target Center for what will be meaningful basketball in March for the first time since the Kevin Love era.
Thanks for reading. Have a wonderful week. Go Wolves.