Houston Rockets’ General Manager Daryl Morey tweeted earlier today that in his estimation, teams will need to win 43-45 games to make the playoffs in the Western Conference. This sounds about right, and it would mean that the Timberwolves would need to finish out the year with a 26-18 record – no small feat. Especially considering the Wolves’ injuries. Let’s take a quick look at the remaining schedule for the Wolves, and what we might expect the hometown squad to manage for the rest of the year.
January (2nd games of back-to-backs are in italics)
Home: Brooklyn, Clippers
Away: Washington, Charlotte
Two of the easier road games the Wolves will have for the rest of the year, but it does not look like Pekovic will be playing in either one, and Shved will be iffy/limited as well due to his sprained ankle. We’ll start off generously and call the Brooklyn game a toss-up since it’s at home. The road games should be wins, although a back-to-back is far from a guarantee. The Clippers game is an almost certain loss at this point, so the rest of January should come out to 2-2, bringing the Wolves’ record to 19-23.
Home: Lakers, New Orleans, Portland, San Antonio, New York, Utah, Philadelphia, Golden State
Away: Memphis, Cleveland, Oklahoma City, Phoenix, Lakers
Thankfully, the Wolves will play 8 of their 13 February games at home. Unfortunately, Philadelphia looks like the only game we can easily chalk up as a win. The Wolves should go 3-2 in the five games against the Lakers, Portland, Utah, Golden State, and the second night of a back-to-back against New Orleans. They’ll probably lose to New York and San Antonio. Realistically, that looks like a 4-4 record at home.
The Wolves will lose at Memphis and Oklahoma City. They should beat Phoenix, and they’ll have a shot at splitting a back-to-back at Cleveland and the final game of the month at the Lakers. A 2-3 record on the road would bring the month’s record to 6-7. Wolves record: 25-30.
Home: Miami, Washington, Dallas, San Antonio, New Orleans, Chicago, Lakers, Oklahoma City, Memphis
Away: Portland, Denver, Indiana, Houston, Memphis, Sacramento, Phoenix, Detroit
Things get even tougher in March, although Chase Budinger should be back towards around the start of the month and Kevin Love should make his return near the end. The Wolves should beat Washington and New Orleans at home, and will be lucky to win one game against a murderers’ row of Miami, San Antonio, Chicago, Oklahoma City. The back-to-backs against Dallas, the Lakers, and Memphis should produce a 1-2 record, leading to a 4-5 home mark.
The Wolves should go at least 4-1 against Portland, Houston, Sacramento, Phoenix (back-to-back), and Detroit. If they can go 1-2 against Denver, Indiana, and Memphis, they’ll finish March with a 5-3 road record and a 9-8 record overall. Wolves record: 34-38.
Home: Boston, Toronto, Detroit, Phoenix, Utah
Away: Milwaukee, Golden State, Clippers, Utah, San Antonio
The Wolves should be able to pull out a 4-1 home record against poor competition. The road schedule is much tougher, but if the Wolves can pull out a 2-3 record away from Target Center, they would finish the month with a 6-4 mark. Remember, Kevin Love should have been playing for a couple of weeks, Budinger will have been back for a full month, and Rubio’s leg (and overall game) should be continuing to progress. A 6-4 record in April would bring the Wolves’ record on the season to 40-42, and likely would lead to Minnesota missing the playoffs by 3-5 games.
Of course, Love’s return at the end of March could help add to a marquee and unexpected win against Memphis, Oklahoma City, or Los Angeles. In games against teams with better records than the Wolves, I still predicted them to win something like 5-7 games. They need to win at least 2/3s of the games against poor teams, and much of that damage can be done at home.
The playoffs are still attainable for the Wolves, and I would put their odds slightly higher (around 20-25%) than ESPN’s projections, which have them at 13.9% as of January 22. Obviously, that projection model does not take into account an improving Rubio or the additions of Kevin Love (10-15 games) or Chase Budinger (18-22 games). I would also count on early season surprises in Portland and Houston to continue their slides, and teams like Golden State to slip a little bit as well. I would not bet on a Timberwolves playoff appearance at this point in time, but much, much stranger things have happened. There is still hope.