As we flip the calendar to the last month of 2021, the Minnesota Timberwolves are about to embark on a really difficult stretch of games. Starting tonight in Washington, DC against the Wizards, the Wolves will play fourteen games in the month of December — seven of which are on the road, and seven of which are at home:
Not only do the Wolves essentially play every other night this month, all fourteen of their games are against teams that currently find themselves in the playoff picture (i.e. are ranked top-10 in their respective conference):
The Timberwolves will play 14 games in the month of December — 7 at home, 7 on the road.— Kyle Theige (@KyleTheige) November 29, 2021
All 14 of their opponents are currently in the playoffs (i.e. top-10 in their conference).
NBA season is a marathon no doubt, but next month *could* be a make-or-break period for the team.
The month of December has not been kind to Minnesota over the years. The last time they found themselves .500 or better at this point in the season was a handful of years ago with Jimmy Butler, when the team was 10-5 and eventually would go on to make the playoffs. What makes this month so crucial for this team, is that they could hypothetically go out on a limb and lose all 14 games, which I don’t actually think is going to happen (obviously), and that would really bust their hopes of a play-in or playoff spot this early in the season.
As many of you remember, the Wolves started this year 4-9, and right when things seemed their bleakest, Minnesota rebounded nicely to get back to 11-10, including winning seven of their last eight games. During that stretch, the team has been top-10 in the NBA on both offense and defense, while facing tough opponents like the Philadelphia 76ers and Miami Heat.
One of the biggest catalysts for their improved play recently has been D’Angelo Russell, who specifically on the defensive end has been directing traffic and putting players (himself included) in the right place at the right time.
D’Angelo Russell on court:— Timberwolves Clips (@WolvesClips) November 30, 2021
- 98.3 points allowed per 100 possessions (96th percentile)
D’Angelo Russell off court:
- 117.2 points allowed per 100 poss. (7th percentile)
A difference of -18.9 points per 100 poss., which ranks #1 in the NBA (min. 500 MP).pic.twitter.com/9VGcQshxNi
Over the past two weeks the Timberwolves are 7-1. The only other teams in that period of time to win 7 games: Golden State, Phoenix and Milwaukee.— Dane Moore (@DaneMooreNBA) November 30, 2021
The 7-1 record has been fueled by the Wolves having a top-10 offense (9th) and top-10 defense (3rd) in those eight games. https://t.co/ywVAgyhMxM pic.twitter.com/0mkqWGomYE
While the December schedule will definitely test the resolve of this team, it should be mentioned that the Wolves play just one set of back-to-back games this month, both of which are at home against the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks. They also have a nice stretch of games in early December at home (against the Atlanta Hawks, Utah Jazz, and Cleveland Cavaliers) which should hopefully allow Minnesota to get extra rest and maybe even some much-needed home cooking as multiple players on the team continue to battle non-COVID related flu symptoms.
The 11-10 record heading into this month is alright, considering they have dropped games against the Pelicans, Magic, and that ugly Grizzlies game. If the Wolves continue to play as they have over the last few weeks, I don’t see any reason why they can’t go at least 7-7, maybe even something wildly successful like 10-4. Conversely, if the currently depleted depth chart comes out with any of those “Charlotte vibes” they keep talking about, it could get ugly quick as the level of competition over these next few weeks is far stronger than it was to end the month of November.
To be conservative, I’ll say my final prediction for the month is 7-7, which would move the team’s record to 18-17 and should tread just enough water to keep them in the top 8 or 10 of the Western Conference standings. Leave your predictions for the month of December in the comments below and let me know what you think we’ll see from the team as they are put to the test over the next fourteen games.