The Minnesota Timberwolves find themselves in the middle of a tight race to the finish line in the Western Conference. As of Thursday, there are only four games separating the five seed and thirteen seed in the West. Every game for the Timberwolves will be absolutely crucial from here on out.
With 18 games remaining on the schedule, the Wolves sit at 32-32 and eighth in the standings, one game behind the Warriors for the fifth seed. With a daunting schedule ahead of them including 11 of their final 18 games on the road, Minnesota is in major danger of falling out of the play-in and missing the postseason altogether.
On the flip side, if they can put together their best basketball of the season, they would be in position to avoid the play-in and lock up a spot in the playoffs by the end of the regular season. To do that, they will need some high-level contributions from some of their most important players. Here are the Timberwolves that must step up if Minnesota is to make the postseason.
1. Rudy Gobert
With Karl-Anthony Towns out for the last three-plus months, Rudy Gobert has been carrying a large load in the frontcourt. Many have pointed out that he has seen a statistical slump this season, hinting that he could be declining as a player. In reality, his numbers, while far from awful, are mostly a result of his odd circumstances.
Rudy has had to play the vast majority of the season without an All-Star teammate next to him in Towns, making his life much more difficult. And up until three weeks ago, he was paired with a score-first point guard that did not necessarily always get the ball to him as efficiently as possible.
Not to mention, Gobert has had to adjust to a major change of scenery this season, playing in a system that is brand new to him. Much of his shortcomings this season are not entirely his fault. With that said, he has to step up and look like a three-time Defensive Player of the Year for the Wolves to make the playoffs.
If Gobert can play within himself offensively while bringing his confidence and mojo as a defender every time he steps on the floor, he is going to make Minnesota a tough out.