It is 5 minutes before tipoff. You've been thinking about this game off and on all day. The Wolves really need a win today to seal up a playoff spot. Adding more tension is the fact that these two teams just plain dislike each other. There is going to be at least one point where some players have to be separated.
This scenario has not played out very often recently due to the Wolves' dreadful rosters. But I remember this feeling very clearly from the Garnett-era Wolves. The Wolves / Nuggets rivalry was pretty intense. Wolves / Sacramento games were less heated but very competitive.
Who will be the Wolves top 5 rivals this coming year? Below is my list.
Although these teams will not meet in the playoffs, barring dual Cinderella runs to the Finals, I have to rank this one highest. Kevin Love hates playing the Pacers; he has said so publicly. They are a good, physical team, and Tyler H. seems likely to break Love's arm at any given moment. Granger has lost his temper at Wolves games too. I would recommend trying hard to catch both Wolves/Pacers regular season games.
Though not divisional opponents, both teams will be fighting hard for a playoff spot. Previous games have been very competitive. The headline match-ups are compelling: Love vs. Blake and Rubio vs. CP3. The Clippers will likely consider themselves a clear level or two above the Wolves given their market, star-power (Blake/CP3), and recent winning percentage. I don't think the Wolves agree.
3. Portland Trailblazers
There is so much history here. Adelman's former team. The town that boo'ed Love for attending UCLA as well as some sub-par early performances vs. Portland. The Batum saga. The undisclosed Webster injury with no extended warranty and no return policy. Frost bite and mosquito bites. Ricky Davis's unwise 'roaches' comment. A feared run at Pek in free agency next summer. This one is likely bigger in fans' minds than the players', but the Wolves will certainly want to win these division games. I would rank it higher if I thought Portland was going to challenge for a playoff spot.
4. OKC Thunder
Last year it was quite clear Westbrook did not like Rubio or the attention he was getting. He seemed more interested in beating Rubio one-on-one than anything else. The Wolves were very competitive vs. the Thunder last season despite the obvious talent gulf. The road to winning the NW division goes through OKC. I see this rivalry increasing as the Wolves improve.
There are so many reasons to dislike the Lakers. Make more than anyone else on their cable TV deal. Will be spending more $$ than anyone else on their roster. Kobe. The fact that every other season they seem to get the best player available on the market. Kobe. The fact that they should still be in Minnesota. A player who gives himself the nickname 'The Mamba'. The game that shall not be named where the injury that shall not be named occurred. The Wolves were surprisingly competitive vs. the Lakers last year. Obviously the Lakers have hit a home run this offseason and so the games may all be blowouts. But Love is an LA guy who loves the spotlight that comes when playing vs. the Lakers. So does Rubio, who also fights for bragging rights with Pau. Adelman likely has a lot of bad memories getting rolled by the Lakers over the years. I think the Wolves will come ready to play.
Those are mine - what are yours?