A lot of words have been discussed regarding the Timberwolves’ easy upcoming schedule and the opportunity to make some serious hay. Essentially, it’s now or never. And for real this time.
But the whole thing actually lines up pretty well with tough schedules for two of the three teams that the Wolves are chasing and could potentially catch up with. Phoenix has a hellish stretch starting this week, and Dallas’ upcoming schedule isn’t a whole lot easier. Unfortunately for Minnesota, the Memphis Grizzlies stand between the Wolves and the playoff picture, and their schedule is a quite a bit lighter than the clubs currently in the 7 and 8 spots.
The Wolves’ next slate of games looks like this: Denver (A), New York, Detroit, Toronto, Milwaukee, Charlotte (A), Sacramento. That’s right: a seven game stretch with five home games, and only one game against a team above .500 (Toronto). No back-to-backs. Realistically, they absolutely have to go 7-0 or 6-1 in that stretch.
The next game on the schedule? Back-to-back road games in Dallas and Houston. The showdown against the Mavs will be a huge game, and a game that the Wolves need to win, especially with a looming ‘L’ in Houston the following night.
Over the next week and a half, the Suns’ schedule looks like this: Atlanta, LAC, Oklahoma City, Golden State (A), LAC (A, B2B). They’ll be lucky to go 1-4, and 0-5 isn’t out of the question. They’ve struggled of late, and Atlanta is the only game in that stretch in which they will be favored.
That gauntlet is followed by some easier games, including a home game against Cleveland and an East Coast swing that includes games in Boston and Brooklyn. But the Wolves should be able to pick up three or four games in the next week simply by taking care of business.
The Mavs play in San Antonio tonight, followed by a couple of days off and a road game in Denver. Then it gets pretty tough again: Portland, Indiana, Golden State (A), Utah (A, B2B), Oklahoma City (A). Then they get Boston at home before the March 19 game against the Wolves.
Including tonight and up until the Minnesota game, Dallas will likely go 2-5 or 3-4, which should allow the Wolves and Memphis to gain a couple more games on the Mavs to make things interesting over the final four weeks of the regular season.
And Memphis? They’re going to be an issue moving forward for the Wolves. Their schedule lines up like this: Washington (A), Brooklyn (A), Chicago (A), Charlotte (B2B), Portland, New Orleans (A, B2B), Toronto (A), Philadelphia (A, B2B), Utah. Not too difficult, but immediately after that stretch, they go to Miami, host the Pacers, and then host the Wolves on the back end of a Minnesota back-to-back.
They should go at least 5-4, if not 6-3 over that stretch. Not ideal, but if the Wolves do manage to go 6-1 or 7-0, they’ll still gain a couple of games. As it stands right now, Minnesota stands four games behind Memphis for the ninth spot, and five behind Phoenix for the eighth seed.
It’s going to be fun, and three weeks from now, the Wolves will either be a) in the thick of the race for the seventh and eighth seeds, or b) virtually eliminated from playoff contention. And really, we’ll have a pretty good idea in about a week and a half.
Of course, the Wolves wouldn’t have had to worry about making a crazy run in March if they had simply won a few of the games they should have or pulled out a couple of those close, late losses that could have gone either way. But they still have a real shot, and they can thank the tough schedule they played early on for that.