Amongst the last few games of the season the Wolves will likely have the opportunity to play spoiler to several teams, similar to how they effectively ended the Washington Wizards' playoff hopes after the double-overtime victory over the weekend. In the last few games we will be playing the Utah Jazz, Dallas Mavericks, Portland Trail Blazers, and Houston Rockets. Those four teams are closely grouped up in the 6 through 9 spots in the West with the Mavericks on the outside looking in by half a game.
These games are also likely going to be the best test for the Wolves throughout the remaining contests, as we have harped upon time and time again here that there is extreme variability in opponent competence and effort during the last portion of the season due to various reasons. The other opponents we are facing are teams who are already locked into their playoff spots or are incentivized to lose rather than win to increase lottery odds.
Even if the Wolves were running through a hot streak at the time and were seen as the "team on the rise" for next season, this does not always translate immediately to quick success. The Utah Jazz last year were seen as that team as after the Enes Kanter trade they became a defensive juggernaut and finished the season 19-10. This year they have struggled to remain over .500 and although this has currently translated to the 7-seed in the Western Conference, many were predicting a much higher win total due the Jazz's hot finish last year.
The point being, end of season success will not automatically translate to a significantly higher win total in the next.
However, even though these sort of games make evaluating the team's performance a somewhat incoherent mess as the whole, it is important to pay attention to the games that do matter as they give us a better idea of where this team is going forward. We have already seen recently, perhaps for the first time all year, that we are finally learning things about the current Timberwolves roster. This really should have been the goal all year long, but at least now we can finally point to several definitive points to be taken from the current make-up of the Wolves that really only came together post All-Star break.
These trends, such as Zach LaVine's shooting, the general rebounding woes, and the Gorgui-Towns tandem, should be something we keep our eye on in the games that matter, of which there are a few left, during which the Wolves will have the chance to ruin some playoff positioning for a few teams and potentially stop another from reaching the playoffs at all.
The Phoenix Suns come to town tonight in one of these non-essential games, although the Timberwolves lost in the most recent match-up. Hopefully tonight will bring a different result.
In case you missed it, Punch Drunk Wolves had a great article that they just posted recently about the Timberwolves newfound offensive abilities, specifically their transition points, and how it relates to the dismal rebounding rates that the Wolves have also posted. Check it out here.
This Week in... Things that are Great!
A bit of a throwback here to a show that I just found out is streaming on Amazon, which is "Justified."
I feel like the show was a bit unheralded during it's 6 season run, which ended last year, as the show didn't employ the fancy editing of shows like Breaking Bad nor the period specific glossiness of Mad Men. Justified was often a show that was very surface level, but that surface was a hell of a lot of fun. The show really found it's footing in the second season as Justified transitioned away from the procedural case-of-the-week style into a more serialized structure and Margo Martindale won an Emmy in that second season for her portrayal of the season's villain. Each consecutive season featured fantastic performances from guest actors as the central "villian" with Neal McDonough, Jim Beaver, Michael Rappaport, and Sam Elliot and Mary Steenburgen stepping in with their respective seasons.
I would be remiss if I did not mention Walter Goggins' performace as Boyd Crowder throughout the series run. Goggins is masterful at playing the intelligent outlaw who vacillates throughout the seasons between various moral positions. Timothy Olyphant is the lead of the show, playing federal marshal Raylan Givens from the Elmore Leonard books with the rest of the cast being rounded out by Joelle Carter, Nick Searcy, and Natalia Zea. Also Jere Burns as Wynn Duffy is always a treat. Even Quentin Tarantino is a big fan of the show, specifically of the dialogue and Goggins' performance.
As is likely becoming obvious, this is a show that the more I think about it the more I am likely to continue singing its praises. The show has some of the quickest dialogue, masterful performances, and plot intrigue while still retaining its sense of fun. If you are interested in the show I might recommend skipping a bit of the first season (after the pilot) till episode 10 or so as the show needs a bit of time to find it's footing and ditch the case-of-the-week aspects. But it really shines from thereout, barring a bit of a stumble in season 5, and actually is one of the few shows that sticks the landing.