On the Minnesota Timberwolves’ path to the playoffs

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MARCH 18: Karl-Anthony Towns. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MARCH 18: Karl-Anthony Towns. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) /

The Minnesota Timberwolves have had a tough stretch so far in March, and with such a close Western Conference playoff race these next few weeks are going to be the most important of the season.

The Minnesota Timberwolves have had a season that has impressed beyond anything their fans have seen in quite some time.

Already in possession of what will be a winning record come end of season, the Timberwolves have had their best season since they won 44 games in the 2004-05 campaign. That year, they finished ninth and missed the playoffs for the first of what has now become 13 consecutive years.

The Timberwolves have eight games remaining this season, and as of this writing sit tied for seventh in the Western Conference, just 1.5 games above ninth-place Denver. The tenth-placed Clippers are a further game and a half behind Denver, but are far from excluded from the playoff race.

While the Wolves have eight remaining games to solidify their spot in the playoffs, Utah and Denver have nine remaining in their playoff hunt, while the Clippers have 10 games to chase a spot in the postseason.

Above the Timberwolves, fifth and sixth-placed Pelicans and Spurs, respectively, are each one game ahead of the Wolves, but also have eight remaining games to finish their playoff pushes. No. 4 Oklahoma City also has eight games remaining and sits two games above the Wolves, while No. 3 Portland is three games clear of the Wolves with 10 remaining appearances for the season.

First and second-placed Houston and Golden State are well out of reach of the Wolves, of course, however with both teams having remaining games against the Wolves’ Western Conference playoff competitors, their results will matter to the Wolves.

In the last few weeks of the season, Oklahoma City, Portland, San Antonio, New Orleans and Utah all have at least one game against one of those aforementioned leaders in the Western Conference. This is good news for the Wolves, who’ve already faced both teams for the last time this season.

The Wolves do, however, have a few games of their own against these Western Conference rivals, which may be integral to win to cement their place in the playoffs over them. The Wolves remaining games for the playoffs should all be treated as must-win. Many are against lower-tier teams, and one game may be all that separate eighth and ninth seeds at the end of the season.

The Timberwolves’ remaining path to the playoffs begins in Minneapolis, with the game against the Grizzlies on Monday. The Grizzlies currently sit with a 19-54 record and come to Minnesota on a four-game losing streak.

On Wednesday, the Atlanta Hawks visit Target Center. Similarly to Grizzlies, they’re far removed from playoff contention and sit last in the East with a 21-52 record.

Friday, the Wolves will head to Dallas to take on the Mavericks to close out this ‘easy’ trio of games, which the Timberwolves should make a certainty to emerge from with a 3-0 record. Dallas has a 22-51 record and is just above Memphis in the standings, and are similarly excluded from playoff contention.

It’s yet to be seen if these teams will be tanking and looking themselves to lose, or whether the Wolves will need to work hard for these wins, but a 3-0 record in this stretch is the start the Wolves need to set themselves on the right track for the remainder of the season.

April gets a little tougher for the Timberwolves, however.

Their five remaining games will kick off Sunday April 1 against Utah in Minneapolis, who currently sit in a tie with the Timberwolves and will be treating this game as do-or-die, much like the Wolves. While it’s yet to be seen how the standings will have shaken out by this point, Utah have upcoming games against Boston and Golden State, and getting a game up on the Wolves could be the make or break for the team.

After the game against Utah, the Wolves have a three-day break to rest, recover and prepare for a doubleheader on the road, which starts with Denver on Thursday.

Denver in in a similar position as Utah, and may be fighting for their playoff position. While Denver has no remaining games against Golden State, Houston or Boston, they do have Toronto to face, as well as games against other contenders such as Oklahoma and Portland before season’s end, not to mention two games against the Wolves.

After the game in Denver, the Timberwolves will head to L.A. to take on the Lakers. As of writing, the Lakers are not yet excluded from playoff contention, but are excruciatingly close, sitting 8.5 games behind the eighth seed.

By the game against the Wolves, the Lakers will likely be out of the playoff hunt, and the Timberwolves will hopefully be able to capitalise for a win after the two (more) difficult games prior.

The Timberwolves’ penultimate game of the season takes place Monday, April 9 when the Grizzlies return to Minneapolis, for what the Wolves will be hoping is another win.

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The season finale takes place Wednesday April 11, in what theoretically could be a play-for-playoff game against Denver, which fortunately is again in Minneapolis. The Wolves will have to dig in deep for this one to finish the regular season out on a high.

With five of their remaining eight games coming at home, the Timberwolves will need to capitalise on their home-court advantage to secure some much needed wins.

The Minnesota home crowds will surely be getting behind our Wolves in this stretch of the season where every game counts.

With just five games separating the fourth and tenth seeds in the West and the Timberwolves sitting right in the middle of that bunch, every game could be a difference-maker, and certainly needs to be treated as such.

The two games against Memphis, the Dallas game and the Atlanta game should all be must-wins and fill in another four for the wins column for the Wolves, but it’s likely that a 4-4 record wouldn’t be enough to cement a playoff spot, nor should the Wolves accept a .500 record over the last eight games.

The Timberwolves have already proven this season they’re a better team than the Lakers, and should collect a fifth win against L.A. The games against Utah and Denver will certainly be much tougher, but as long as we don’t have an 0-3 record throughout then the Timberwolves will hopefully be in a position to be making their first playoff appearance since 2004.

Next: Timberwolves' progress since the All-Star break

Each game remaining in the Timberwolves’ schedule needs to be treated as a must-win, as each may be the difference maker for the Timberwolves playoff hopes. The Timberwolves’ need to capitalize on their impressive season to secure a postseason appearance that the fans and the team itself so desperately deserves.