Good morning everyone. I hope you’re all on your third cup of coffee and making it through whatever the cubes are putting you through today.
As the Wolves embark on a somewhat treacherous 14-game stretch, it’s important to remember what the general formula is for teams to reach the postseason. We have only been in this spot to even think about the playoffs a few times in recent history, so it’s good to have a quick reminder.
There are numerous ways to find yourself in the playoffs, but in general, there are two specific ways to make sure your season doesn’t end in early April.
For one, teams who make the playoffs generally perform well in their division games. While these games technically each each count the same as the other 1/82, they carry a bit more weight for two main reasons. There are simply more of these games on the schedule (four against each team), so if you perform well in divisional games, you’re likely to have a solid record on the season overall. Additionally, these are also the teams you’re competing for playoff spots with. Winning these games obviously leads to a better record, but also secures tiebreakers against teams you will inevitably be battling against for playoff spots/seeding.
Minnesota has only played one division game thus far, a 93-91 loss to Denver over Halloween weekend. The Wolves, Blazers, and Nuggets all figure to be fighting for similar playoff positioning, so games against those teams carry a ton of weight. This also means Minnesota has four games remaining against Oklahoma City, which brings us to point number two.
Playoff teams typically hammer the bad, tanking teams. The Wolves already set themselves behind the 8-ball here with losses to Orlando (tanking) and New Orleans (just bad), but there’s still plenty of time to take advantage of these opportunities. By my count, there are somewhere between six-and-eight truly bad teams in the NBA. If Minnesota just takes care of business for the most part against these teams, it gives them a cushion against the rest of the NBA.
If my quick math is correct, Minnesota still has 14 games remaining against Houston, Oklahoma City, Orlando, San Antonio, New Orleans, Detroit, and Sacramento. Those are games Minnesota absolutely has to win in order to give themselves a buffer. New Orleans may not fall into this category if/when Zion Williamson comes back, but for now, they definitely belong in this grouping.
While there is clearly more to making the playoffs than simply winning division games and beating bad teams, doing both puts you in great shape.
So, as the Timberwolves embark on a legitimately difficult stretch here, let’s just try to remember what’s important for this team to be playing meaningful basketball into the spring. Win your divisional games, beat up on bad teams, and tread water elsewhere.