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A look ahead at the Wolves in December

As we enter the final month of 2016, we take a look at the challenges remaining for the Minnesota Timberwolves within, and what we know now that we may not have known earlier.

NBA: New York Knicks at Minnesota Timberwolves Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Today is the first day of December, the final month of 2016. It has largely been a rough year by almost ever measure, but within the sphere of the Minnesota Timberwolves fan, it has been a year of alternating optimism and crushing defeats, lately many more of the latter. Last night’s majestic game by Karl-Anthony Towns amidst another loss may be the most frustrating one yet.

Fortunately, 2017 can’t possibly be any worse, right? (Don’t answer that.) Now that December has begun and the NBA season is through more than a month of games, it seems like a good time to look ahead to the schedule of the rest of the month and see what awaits the young Wolves in the immediate future.

Date Opponent Opp. Record
Fri 12/2 @ New York 9-9
Sat 12/3 @ Charlotte 10-8
Tue 12/6 vs San Antonio 15-4
Thu 12/8 @ Toronto 12-6
Fri 12/9 vs Detroit 10-10
Sun 12/11 vs Golden State 16-2
Tue 12/13 @ Chicago 10-7
Sat 12/17 vs Houston 11-7
Mon 12/19 vs Phoenix 6-13
Wed 12/21 @ Atlanta 10-9
Fri 12/23 vs Sacramento 7-11
Sun 12/25 @ Oklahoma City 12-8
Mon 12/26 vs Atlanta 10-9
Wed 12/28 @ Denver 7-11
Fri 12/30 vs Milwaukee 8-8

Let’s start with the bad news. The Wolves play fifteen games in the month of December. Only three of the fifteen games are against teams who currently have losing records (plus three more against teams currently sitting at .500). The games are pretty evenly split between home (8) and away (7). There are also three back-to-backs in December, all three of which have at least one leg on the road.

In unsurprising news, the Wolves are 1-6 so far this season against the teams they play this month, with their only victory coming against Phoenix last week. However, four of those six losses were by seven points or less (by three to Sacramento and Denver, by seven to Charlotte, and last night’s two point loss to New York). So, with better, more consistent play, those losses could turn into wins, especially if some of the fire the Wolves showed in the fourth quarter last night returns.

There is also an important stretch in the middle of December that could be incredibly important for the progress and learning of this young team. It’s the stretch between Dec. 13 and 17, where the Wolves have three full off days after they return from Chicago. That stretch is followed by a nice little two game homestand against the Rockets and Suns.

This could give coach Tom Thibodeau a chance for something NBA coaches rarely get during the season: a solid three days of good, consistent practice at home. With the Wolves still figuring out Thibodeau’s system, some quality practice could be just the ticket to resolve some of the defensive lapses that continue to plague the team both in clutch situations and throughout games.

This team has a run of wins in them somewhere, even if they can make just the most basic of defensive improvements. The stretch of eight games after that break are all winnable if the Wolves play at their peak, and the first one against Houston should be the hardest of them (remember, the Wolves played OKC close before one of those devastating third quarters).

With that said, the next seven games could very well be rough. After another shot at the Knicks, the worst team they face is the injury-laden Pistons, who have still managed to scrape their way up to .500. Not that the Wolves haven’t shown they can play up to their opponents (see last April’s game in Golden State), but the bare facts do not inspire much hope.

Looking at the big picture of December is a good reminder that an NBA season is long, and this team needs time and hard work to develop into the world-beaters many think they could be. The present might be rough, but there are positive signs for the future.