Entering play on Thursday, the Timberwolves sat just two-and-a-half games behind the Denver Nuggets for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. What can they do to reach postseason play for the first time in 13 years?
Sixty-three games into the season, the Timberwolves are finally living up to preseason expectations, playing excellently since the all-star break.
With 19 games left in the season, the Timberwolves are looking to sustain their recent success and end their 13-year playoff drought. However, with one of the tougher schedules in the NBA and 2.5 games separating them from the eighth spot, it’s not going to be easy — and Wiggins’ and Towns’ continued excellence won’t be enough.
Here is what it’s going to take for Timberwolves to make the playoffs.
A slide from the Denver Nuggets
Sadly, the Timberwolves’ faith is partly in the hands of Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets; the Timberwolves playing well won’t be enough to grab that final playoff spot if the Nuggets keep up at their pace. Denver is going to have to slip a bit.
The good news for Timberwolves fans is that the Nuggets currently own a league-worst defensive efficiency, making a slide down the standings a very real possibility despite their relatively soft remaining schedule.
More Tyus Jones
The casual NBA fan won’t necessarily understand Timberwolves fans’ fondness for Tyus.
On the surface, his numbers don’t really stand out, but in taking a deeper look you’ll see just how valuable he is to the young bunch; he has shown the ability to shift a game’s momentum with his excellent play off the bench and the team.
The team is 5.9 points better per 100 possessions when he’s on the floor. Jones is becoming a game-changer, warranting more minutes and explaining why he has been a fan favorite in Minnesota. Thibodau seems to have taken a hint as the former Duke star’s minutes has increased to 20.8 minutes per game since the break, which can only help them in their playoff chances.
Consistency from Bjelica
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Bjelica can provide the Timberwolves with an extra dimension when he’s on the
floor, providing the team with spacing at the four-spot while being able to make plays off the dribble.
Unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to remain consistently efficient and productive this season as his shooting has regressed in his sophomore season. They have been able to win games even when he’s struggle but it definitely helps their chances to win games when he’s a threat off the bench, something they’re going to need more consistently from him for the rest of the season.
Winning the Portland Trail Blazers season series
There are essentially four teams in the West competing to sneak into the playoffs. Among them is the Trail Blazers, who the Timberwolves will play another three times this season.
Winning the season series would not only likely put them above the Blazers in the playoff hunt, but it would also give the young Wolves the all-important tie-breaker against a team with a very similar win-loss record. Portland got the best of Minnesota last time, but the Timberwolves have improved greatly since and there going to prove it against their division foe in these must-win games.
Keeping up the defensive intensity
The team looks to have finally reached their defensive potential this month, posting a stingy 97.3 defensive rating post-All-Star Break. To put things in perspective, no other team has posted a better rating in that span.
This improvement couldn’t come at a better time; 12 of their last 19 games come against teams ranked in the top half in offensive ranking efficiency. If Thibodeau’s bunch wants to play past April 12th, they’re going to have to prove that this defense is legit and not just a result of small sample.