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Warriors at Wolves: Playoffs?!

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The race for the eighth seed in the West is far from over.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Minnesota Timberwolves Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

After a two-year lull, the Minnesota Timberwolves are playing relevant basketball again in March.

The race for the Western Conference’s eighth seed is heating up with several teams still in contention. As of Friday morning, Denver still has a loose grasp on a playoff spot with Portland knocking viciously at the door.

image via NBA.com

Minnesota sits in 11th but at only 2.5 games back of that eighth seed with 19 games left on its schedule. It’s not worth getting too hyped up about yet, but it does remind me of one of my favorite sound bites in the history of sports.

“PLAYOFFS?! YOU KIDDIN’ ME? PLAYOFFS??!”

I’m not kidding. The Wolves are right in this race and just so happen to be playing their best basketball of the season.

Standing in Minnesota’s way tonight is reeling Golden State, who has looked uncharacteristically vulnerable over the past week, losing three of five. Meanwhile, Minnesota has won seven of its last 11 and has flat out dominated since the All-Star break.

NOTE: Some of the ranks listed in the above tweet have changed due to last night’s NBA action.

Usually, being optimistic about a matchup with the Warriors is not a wise approach. In fact, the optimistic viewpoint about any Wolves matchup is generally not a wise approach. But these Warriors are not the same Warriors that dominated the NBA for the first four months of the season.

Since the All-Star break (eight games for the Warriors), Golden State has made only 32.8 percent of three-point attempts -- good enough for 25th in the NBA. The Warriors’ 45.1 overall field goal percentage is also 23rd in the NBA in that time span.

Golden State has still posted a net rating of 5.7 in those eight games, which is good enough for fifth in the NBA. But Minnesota’s 10.7 net rating against rigid competition dwarfs Golden State’s mark and ranks first in the NBA.

Last time the Warriors were at Target Center, Kevin Durant was healthy and were boasting a 20-4 record (albeit having lost the night before to Memphis). Despite that, the Wolves were able to play the Warriors tough down to the wire before Golden State pulled away late in the fourth quarter.

Golden State will not have Durant tonight — which takes us back to last season, the last time these two teams met without the Durantula on the floor. I think we all vividly remember that game.

Again, it’s usually a dangerous game approaching a Wolves game with any kind of optimism — especially a game against the top team in the Western Conference. But it might not be so dangerous tonight.

With a win tonight, and the Nuggets playing host to Boston, the Wolves could very well climb to just 1.5 games out of a playoff spot.

PLAYOFFS?!

Expected Starting Lineups

Timberwolves

PG - Ricky Rubio

SG - Andrew Wiggins

SF - Brandon Rush

PF - Gorgui Dieng

C - Karl-Anthony Towns

Warriors

PG - Stephen Curry

SG - Klay Thompson

SF - Patrick McCaw

PF - Draymond Green

C - Zaza Pachulia

Four Factors

As we always do in game previews, let’s take a look at how the Wolves and Warriors match up using the Four Factors. Reminder, the Four Factors are effective field goal percentage (eFG%), turnover percentage (TOV%), offensive rebounding percentage (ORB%), and free throw rate (FTR).

factor / GSW / MIN

eFG% / 56.3 / 51.1

TOV% / 14.3 / 14.7

ORB% / 22.2 / 27.4

FTR / .263 / .283

Prediction

The Wolves are rolling right now, and it appears as if Tom Thibodeau’s mastermind defensive philosophy is finally starting to set in with his young group. A daunting test awaits tonight in what will be a raging atmosphere at Target Center.

I’m usually not one for optimism, but I’m feeling it tonight.

Wolves 107, Warriors 103