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