How badly did the Timberwolves tumble hurt their NBA Playoff chances?

Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

The Minnesota Timberwolves (39-38) suffered a defeat on the third of three road games at the hands of the Phoenix Suns (41-35). A loss was likely, not only because the Timberwolves entered the game on a four-game winning streak, but because it was the first home game for their newly acquired NBA superstar, Kevin Durant. It was not a blowout loss by any means. The Minnesota Timberwolves held a half-time lead in this one and remained in front through the first nine minutes of the third quarter.

Eventually, the Timberwolves’ shots stopped falling, as the Suns’ shots did.  As a result, the Timberwolves missed an opportunity to claim the sixth seed in the NBA Western Conference, dropped into the NBA Play-In zone as the seventh seed, and now find themselves with a lower ceiling at a record that can be no better than 44-38 and just as bad at 39-43.

So the question now is, how badly did the Minnesota Timberwolves’ loss hurt their NBA chances? To say with any certainty, we’ll need to examine the remaining five games on the Timberwolves’ schedule:

Date            Opponent
Mar 31        vs Los Angeles Lakers (38-38)
Apr  2           vs Portland Trail Blazers (32-44)
Apr 4            at Brooklyn Nets (41-35)
Apr 8            at San Antonio Spurs (19-57)
Apr 9            vs New Orleans Pelicans (38-38)

To be fair, if the Timberwolves had to lose a game, that was not the worst place in their schedule to drop one. Why? The Phoenix Suns, even in a loss, would have fallen to 40-36 with six games remaining on their schedule. With two games against the Denver Nuggets, a game against the LA Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers, and also games against the San Antonio Spurs and the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Suns are likely to end the season at no worse than 44-38, the very best of the Timberwolves range.

But as we can see above for the Timberwolves remaining games, the two contests that will be imperative for the Timberwolves to win are two games at Target Center. The first against the Lakers and the season finale hosting the Pelicans. If the Timberwolves win both of those games, not only do they ensure that they will end the season with a record of .500 or better, but the loss to both the Lakers and the Pelicans will set their playoff aspiration back a bit as well.

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If the Timberwolves can defeat the Lakers at Target Center on Friday, March 31, the team will be back on track.