The Minnesota Timberwolves are likely to finish as the No. 7 seed. Are the Wolves built for play-in tournament success?
Are the Timberwolves built to succeed in the Play-In Tournament?
After falling to the Toronto Raptors by 23 points on Tuesday night, the Minnesota Timberwolves‘ fight to escape the play-in tournament took a major hit.
Now 2.5 games behind the sixth-seeded Utah Jazz with five games to play, the Wolves’ fears of falling to the play-in tournament seem very real.
If the Wolves were to fall into the play-in tournament as the No. 7 seed, they would likely face the LA Clippers, currently sitting at No. 8, in the first play-in game. With a win, the Wolves would earn the 7-seed in the playoffs, and with a loss, the Wolves would face the loser of the 9-10 seeds for a chance at the No. 8 seed in the playoffs.
In addition to the inherent pressure of the play-in tournament, the difference between earning a No. 7 seed and No. 8 seed is very significant. For instance, the Wolves would much rather face the Memphis Grizzlies as a No. 7 seed than face the Phoenix Suns as a No. 8 seed.
Think about it. A one-time, must-win game versus the LA Clippers…are the Wolves built to handle that?
One tell of a team’s readiness to handle a must-win play-in game is the team’s playoff experience. The presence of Patrick Beverley has brought so much to this team this year, but playoff experience is an attribute that must manifest itself in the play-in for the Wolves to win.
Beverley is the only player on the roster who has been past the second round of the playoffs in his career (excluding Jake Layman, who logged just over 20 total minutes of Portland’s 2019 Playoff run). Aside from Beverley, this is a largely inexperienced team in the playoffs.
Another tell of a team’s likelihood to succeed in the play-in is their clutch play. In clutch time this season, which the NBA defines as ‘the last five minutes of a game in which the point differential is 5 or less,’ the Timberwolves are 18-17 – essentially a coin flip.
The Wolves rank No. 2 in 3-point shooting percentage in clutch situations but rank No. 29 in 2-point shooting percentage in the same situations. This tells us the Wolves live and die by the three at the end of tight games, which is slightly concerning given the Wolves have been a middle-of-the-pack 3-point shooting team this year (currently No. 13) and are missing one of their best shooters at the moment in Malik Beasley.
What’s more concerning is the Clippers’ clutch record this season, which is tied for third-best in the league. The Clippers have a 23-17 record in clutch situations. However, like the Wolves, the Clippers tend to live and die by the three in clutch situations as well, as LA leads the league in percentage of points from three in clutch time (37.6%).
Essentially, the Wolves are likely facing a shooting contest with the Clippers, who rank 6th in the league in 3-point shooting percentage this season.
Finally, matchups matter when it comes to the play-in tournament, and the Clippers have given the Wolves trouble this season. The Clippers lead the season series 3-1, with the Wolves only win coming in the only matchup in which the Clippers were without Paul George. George recently made his return to the Clippers lineup from injury, scoring 34 points on Tuesday against the Utah Jazz.
The sides haven’t faced since Jan. 3, and a lot has changed for the Wolves since then, most of which has been positive. However, the proof is in the pudding – the Clippers have had the Wolves’ number this season, and it’ll take a strong performance at Target Center to beat the experienced Clippers in a must-win play-in game.
We’ll see if the Wolves can avoid the play-in over their last five games, but a play-in scenario is less than ideal for the Wolves, a team who would significantly benefit from a 7-seed or better in the playoffs.