The Minnesota Timberwolves were destroyed by Jimmy Butler and the 76ers on Tuesday night in Philadelphia. Will they fold and fade into the background of the Western Conference? Or will they fight to stay afloat?
The Minnesota Timberwolves stand at 21-23 and are two-and-a-half games out of the playoff race in the Western Conference.
They’re 2-2 since firing Tom Thibodeau, winning one and losing one both on the road and at home. Outside of a Karl-Anthony Towns-inflicted block party against the New Orleans Pelicans last weekend, the defense has been poor over the last four games, and things look like they could easily spiral out of control.
After all, if there was ever a game to get up for, it was a nationally-televised showdown (sort of; it was on NBA TV) against the guy who held the franchise captive and torpedoed the opening 15 percent of the regular season schedule. Plus, the Wolves had two consecutive off-days following their win over the Pelicans on Saturday.
But the Sixers came out firing on all cylinders, apparently wanting to stick it to Butler’s former teammates and work to prove Joel Embiid’s superiority over Towns.
And this isn’t media or blog-speak, either. It isn’t a manufactured storyline. Jeff Teague admitted as much after the game.
Teague told it like it is, and the pettiness from Embiid and Butler after the game on Instagram underlined the truth that the Sixers simply felt like there was more to play for on Tuesday than the Wolves were willing to admit.
So, where does Minnesota go from here? Will Towns put his 13 points and three rebounds behind him and come ready to play on Friday against a key Western Conference opponent in the San Antonio Spurs? The Wolves are already 1-2 against the Spurs, and need a win to even the season series and avoid losing out on the tie-breaker against Gregg Popovich’s crew for the second-straight season.
After the Spurs, the Wolves play a rare home-and-home against the Phoenix Suns. It’s a bit of a tough break, as it’s hard to beat a team two straight times and they’ll have to do just that in the course of 48 hours.
Then, the Wolves go to L.A. for the Lakers and then have a home-and-home against Utah, whom the Wolves defeated back on Halloween in Derrick Rose’s 50-point performance.
The Wolves need to find a way to go at least 4-2 in that stretch of games against the West. It’s doable, with half the games at home, but it won’t be easy.
It’s a unique stretch of games that will show us a lot about Ryan Saunders’ coaching in short order, as quick turnarounds against the same teams is extremely hard on coaches.
It’s also time to find out what mindset Towns and Co. are going to bring to the balance of the season. If they go 2-4 and worse over the next six, the climb to a top-eight spot in the West will only get that much steeper.