With only 25 games left on the schedule, can the Minnesota Timberwolves rack up enough wins to challenge for a playoff spot in the Western Conference?
The unofficial second half of the season begins this week, and the Minnesota Timberwolves have quite a bit of ground to make up in the Western Conference.
Sitting at 27-30 and four games back of the Los Angeles Clippers for the eighth and final playoff spot, the Wolves have to finish strong despite a number of lingering injuries to key members of the rotation.
The best was to look at the rest of the season and just how realistic making the playoffs might be is to go game by game. And so we did.
The following breakdown is a prediction based on games that the Wolves *should* win, or, if you’d rather look at this way, they’re games in which Minnesota will likely be favored. It also imagines the Wolves playing much how they have been since Ryan Saunders took the helm — in other words, fairly up-and-down.
Lastly, let’s note that the average number of regular season wins for the No. 8 seed in the West over the last 10 seasons — that’s dating back to 2008 and not counting the lockout-shortened 2011-12 campaign — is 46.2. It’s a sobering reminder that while the 47 wins that it took the Wolves last year seemed like it was a lot because the previous two campaigns had featured 41-win teams, it was far closer to the norm than ideal. (And yes, the Eastern Conference eight-seeds have only averaged 39.6 wins over the same span.)
Okay, here’s my stab at the rest of the schedule.
The rest of February
at New York Knicks
Win (Record: 28-30)
The Knicks have won 11 games and have zero incentive to win. The Wolves headed into the All-Star Break with consecutive wins over likely Western Conference playoff opponents. Plus, Dennis Smith Jr.’s Slam Dunk Contest disappointment will surely be hanging over Madison Square Garden when the Wolves head there on Feb. 22.
at Milwaukee Bucks
Loss (Record: 28-31)
The Bucks have maintained the league’s best record and show no signs of slowing down. Milwaukee destroyed the Wolves by 30 points back on Oct. 26 in a game that saw Jimmy Butler score four points in 24 minutes. So yeah, things have changed, but probably not enough to expect a Wolves win.
vs. Sacramento Kings
Win (Record: 29-31)
The Kings aren’t a layup, of course, as they currently sit three games ahead of Minnesota and just one game out of the playoff picture. The Wolves have already lost twice in Sacramento and beat the Kings once at Target Center, and this should be the perfect opportunity to even the season series. This game effectively counts double, too, as the Wolves can’t afford to lose the tiebreaker to Dave Joerger’s crew.
at Atlanta Hawks
Win (Record: 30-31)
The Wolves suffered arguably their worst loss of the season on Dec. 28 when they came from 19 points down at home to tie the Hawks and lose in overtime. In case you blocked that game out of your memory, that was the booing-of-Andrew-Wiggins game. Minnesota should go into Atlanta and even the season series against the now-19-39 Hawks.
at Indiana Pacers
Loss (Record: 30-32)
The Wolves beat the Pacers back on Oct. 20 in a game in which Butler led the team in scoring with 20 points. Indiana is without Victor Oladipo for the rest of the season, but they’re still the No. 4 seed in the East and have a 22-8 home record. This will be a tough game to win, and especially so on the second night of a road back-to-back.