Fifty wins is a noteworthy amount for a number of reasons.
First and most importantly, it represents something of a threshold number for a playoff team to be taken seriously. Whether it earns a 7 seed or a 3, a 50-win season means that a team is for real and not only earned a playoff berth, but it can potentially win a playoff series — maybe even a couple of them, depending on how things break. While a 50-win season probably won’t end with a championship, there have been a few past title winners that won fewer than 50 games, so the concept isn’t entirely unrealistic.
Second, 50 is just a nice, clean, even number with a lot of common areas of significance. It’s half of 100 and a team cannot win one hundred games — they only play 82 of them. Fiftieth birthdays and wedding anniversaries are celebrated. There are 50 states in the U.S.A. There’s a rapper named 50 Cent. There is an erotic romance novel turned movie called Fifty Shades of Grey. And as Wikipedia explains, “In the 1994 action movie Speed, which depicts a Los Angeles cop (Keanu Reeves), who must rescue civilians on a bus that has a bomb rigged to it which will detonate if the bus’s speed drops below 50 mph.”
Fifty is just a number with a lot of meaning in many contexts.
Finally, for this Timberwolves team, a 50-win season represents a realistically ambitious goal. If they win 50 games this year, that represents success. They will have succeeded Las Vegas’s “over/under” mark of 48.5 wins. They will have made the playoffs. They might even have home-court advantage for the first round.
Fifty wins would be good.
Tonight’s win over the New Orleans Pelicans — a blowout affair in which the Wolves led the entire way — sets them on a clean 50-win pace at the season’s midway point. They have played 41 games. They have won 25 of them. If they go 25-16 again, in the second half of the season, they will finish 50-32.
This game was not close. It was never close. The Wolves jumped out to a 12-point lead after the first quarter, beginning the game was quick ball movement generated by exploiting mismatches in the post and looking for perimeter shooters. Andrew Wiggins kickstarted the offense, and almost everybody took their turn at various points in the game. They led by 27 points late in the first half, and later built as big as a 34-point lead. They eventually won by 18 points. To the Pelicans credit (I guess?) the continued to play their best players despite the huge margin, and eventually cut that lead into the teens, but the game was never in any serious doubt.
The Pelicans were channeling all of their energy toward pushing the ball in transition. Whether off of a Wolves make or miss, they were absolutely shoving the ball up the floor to look for quick baskets. Perhaps the idea was to tire out the Wolves, who were playing their 5th game in 7 nights. The strategy made sense, in theory. The problem with it was that the Wolves were scoring way too much and the Pelicans never, at any point, jacked up their defensive intensity to meet the challenge. They didn’t bring their A game or even their B game and the Wolves stepped on their throat in the first half and never really looked back.
The plus-minus numbers suggest that the bench was their typical bad selves, but that isn’t really a fair takeaway. They were huge in the late first and early second quarter, extending the lead built by the starters and establishing the game as a clear-cut blowout. Jamal Crawford and Gorgui Dieng had some nice two-man action on offense. Dieng battled DeMarcus Cousins on defense for a nice stretch that allowed Towns — who had staggered in with the bench guys — to go off with scoring and rebounding.
The starters’ scoring was balanced. Towns and Butler led with 21 a piece. Wiggins had 20. Taj had 15. Tyus, who did a great job pushing the pace and attacking in transition, had 10 points. All of them were heavy positives in the +/-, ranging from Tyus’s (+14) to Jimmy’s (+25).
Wolves versus Pelicans games are fun for the simple reason that Karl-Anthony Towns gets a chance to take his talents to the other top big men in the NBA: Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. That all three played for John Calipari at Kentucky is a coincidence and an additional symbol of their respective talent levels. Coach Cal tends to get the dudes with the most talent and the most upside, and KAT, Brow, and Boogie most definitely have the most talent and the most upside in the NBA.
Thibs joked about Towns after the game, saying that he finally got to play a game against the Pelicans. He had terrible foul trouble (and all-around struggles) in the two previous games this year against the Pels, which the Wolves improbably won despite his poor performance. In this game tonight, KAT continued his play of the last month. He looked like an All-NBA stud once again, posting all-around stats of 21 points, 16 rebounds, and 3 assists. Thibs credited his improved preparation for games.
The season’s first half is now complete. Twenty fives wins down, hopefully twenty five (or more!) to go.