The Wolves should do everything they can to earn the 8th seed in the West

Otherwise titled “2004 Was a Long-Ass Time Ago.”

From the Wolves’ first-ever postseason series victory – 2004, against the Nuggets.

A couple of days ago, John Schuhmann of NBA.com broke down the remaining schedules for every team in the NBA, with a particular focus on who may have the most and least difficult paths to the final spot(s) in each conference. Turns out, the Timberwolves may have the toughest row to hoe:

Basketball-Reference’s Playoff Probabilities Report puts the Wolves’ chances at a mere 7.4%, despite being just 3 games out of the 8th seed in the West. A quick perusal of their upcoming opponents offers clues as to why:

  • Just 8 of the team’s final 21 are at home, including two 3-game road trips and a 4-game West Coast swing in the season’s second-to-last week
  • The Wolves still have to face Warriors and Spurs twice apiece
  • They also play at Boston, at Houston, and once more at Utah (where they just played a great game, but, still)
  • Washington and the L.A. Clippers come to Minneapolis, but the former’s on a roll and the latter’s finally getting healthy
  • Three road games against East teams clawing for postseason berths of their own (Indiana, Miami, and Milwaukee)

In other words, it’s not exactly a cake walk. But despite that, and despite being without Zach LaVine for the rest of the season, and despite temptation to tank in hopes of improving the number of lotto balls ping-ponging around in May, and despite the fact that a playoff berth would almost certainly end with a quick first-round dismissal at the hands of the Spurs or Warriors…

… Screw it. The Wolves should gun for the playoffs.

For one thing, giving Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins a taste of postseason basketball can only be characterized as a good thing, especially in light of everything they’ll need to overcome to achieve it: a slow start to the season, an injury to one of their best teammates, and a brutal schedule down the stretch. It’d be a splendid reward for the Wolves’ 21 and 22-year-old stars (respectively). Not only them, but imagine the good it’d do Shabazz Muhammad, Gorgui Dieng, and (especially) Ricky Rubio. That trio is on coach number four with the Wolves; they’ve made it through the Love trade and all the losing and roster shuffling that came afterward. There’s a good chance the next 21 games are Ricky’s final regular season contests in a Wolves uniform; to see him in the playoffs finally, after everything he’s been through, would be pretty special.

Secondly, it’d give Tom Thibodeau a very tangible accomplishment heading into his second offseason as the Timberwolves’ personnel chief. Not only would some of the external pressures for rapid improvement be eased a bit, pitches to potential free agents would include the factual selling point of “We were a playoff team.” Few would remember this year’s Wolves as the team that blew tons of early-season leads and struggled mightily with consistency; instead, they’d be the squad that broke one of the longest postseason droughts in professional sports.

Speaking of which – thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, it’d be a huge boost to the spirits of Timberwolves fans, especially if (and this is a big if) the Wolves could steal a home game against the Warriors or Spurs in the first round. No, a first round exit in four or five games won’t light a fire under casual fans, turning them into die-hards, but it would be an incredible first step towards a) bolstering the current base and b) making inroads to the kind of Minnesota sports fan (we all know some) who only begin to care when it’s playoff time.

Lastly, it’d be fun. Having an NBA playoff game in Minnesota would be really, really fun. Is that a compelling, dispassionate argument? No. But I don’t care: for at least two nights, Target Center would be full, and postseason hoops would return to Minneapolis.

So why the hell not? Go for it, Thibs and the Timberpups. At this stage, a Gentleman’s Sweep is a success story. Go get it.

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  1. I agree, and I will add that playing meaningful games at this part of the season, instead of tanking for draft position changes the dynamic of this franchise even if we come up short. Losing is a habit that the wolves got too comfortable with. We need our stars to want the pressure of big moments and there will be plenty these last stretch of games for KAT and Wiggins to grab.

    In addition, getting close to .500 will make it easier to convince FA to come and be the final pieces to a playoff run. Last year, Thibs talked to top end FA, and either would have had to overpay or they declined to sign with a chance to win elsewhere. Teams like Charlotte, Utah and Atlanta were seen as getting close and got good pieces (and some mistakes) that the TWolves couldn’t get. Winning and having young stars can be more helpful than another top lottery pick. Especially convincing our stars that staying is better than leaving for their career ala our last two stars, KG and Love.

    As for Rubio leaving at the end of this season. Let’s not assume because Thibs tried to get a ransom for Ricky (sounds like the Rose for Ricky deal wasn’t enough for Thibs) that he will get what he wants this summer. I still see Thibs adapting to the Spanish unicorn more and more during this run, and maybe Dunn has some things to prove before being anointed starter. The growth of Tyus Jones may be more of a reason to trade Ricky than Dunn, not as a starter, but as a reliable floor leader at a very low salary to backup Dunn. Opening up trade options for Rubio besides getting a vet PG in return could mean we see the last of Ricky in Minny, but Thibs doesn’t need Ricky’s money to add pieces to this team, and it may be better to keep him until Dunn takes the starting job away.

  2. “There’s a good chance the next 21 games are Ricky’s final regular season contests in a Wolves uniform; to see him in the playoffs finally, after everything he’s been through, would be pretty special.”

    This, times a billion. For all his effort, and for all the fact that he’s been the SOLE consistently positive contributor throughout this brutal stretch of terrible seasons, mostly all he gets rewarded with are awful records, trade speculation, and criticism from casual fans about his shooting. A playoff berth would be the least we could do. And it’d take the sting away from the presumable inevitability that we’ll be seeing Rubio contribute to a different team’s playoff success sometime in the near future.

    • I hope this is wrong. Not the fact of Ricky deserving make the playoffs, but which is the alternative if Ricky is traded? If the wolves replicate what they are doing the last 40 games of this season, and add one or two average veterans (like CJ Miles and James Johnson to name a couple) the next year we will be in the playoffs.

      Trade Ricky away would be a massive step back IMO. Start Dunn would be a tank move at this point, and I dont see any PG available for the same money that Ricky is making who fit well with out core while being close in overall impact.

  3. I mean, is there even a 1% chance they’d tank? The level of emphasis on developing the big 3 all season makes it unlikely that Wiggins or Towns get held out for tanking, and any other adjustments wouldn’t matter unless it’s blatant.

    Anyway, their trying to make the playoffs is like me saying I’m going to try turning $20 into $500 at the casino; if it happens, great, but the expectation is that it’s highly unlikely, and I’m certainly not going to start thinking about what it’d be like to have that happen. Besides the schedule, they only hold the tiebreaker over Dallas and already have one of the worst records vs. other Western Conference teams.

    • No, there is 0 % chance they’ll tank. Yet there are fans out there that have the “Go for more ping pong balls” mentality permanently entrenched in their thought process because for the past decade plus that’s all they had to look forward to. I have read more than a few comments about it over in the Strib.
      So while most of us die hards know not is only are they not going to tank it would be a terrible idea to even try, this article points out the plethora of reason why that idea is so bad.