The Minnesota Timberwolves are in the middle of the muck at the bottom of the Western Conference playoff picture. Despite being two games under .500 and only having a two-game lead on the 11th seed, the Timberwolves are only a game back from the sixth seed which would allow them to avoid the play-in games all together.
In what seems to be the Timberwolves’s way this season, they followed up an impressive four-game winning streak by dropping two straight. One of these was with a skeleton crew against the Utah Jazz (wouldn’t expect that to be a win), but the loss to the beleaguered Dallas Mavericks was another unacceptable loss to put on this season’s resume.
The Mavericks were without Luka Doncic, Kristaps Porzingis, and Tim Hardaway Jr, but the Timberwolves still managed to lose by 12. The cost of that loss cannot be understated. If the Timberwolves would’ve won, they would’ve been sitting at .500 and in the sixth seed ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers, Denver Nuggets, and Mavericks. I know it’s early and judging the daily standings movement will drive me to the asylum, but when life hands you lemons, you don’t need to necessarily make a lemon meringue, but you can’t keep throwing them in the garbage.
As we look forward to the upcoming week, the Timberwolves have some big games that they can’t afford to not show up to. They start the week against the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks who are both very beatable despite the Timberwolves’s struggles against the East this season. More importantly, though, the Timberwolves wrap up the weekend with the Lakers and Jazz. The Jazz continue to click on all cylinders, so beating them isn’t necessarily expected, but god damn is it sweet it happens. Nothing better than the Rudy Gobert diehards reaching deep in their bag of excuses. The more important game, though, is against the Lakers. If the Timberwolves can yet again put a whooping on the Lakers, they’ll have a 3-0 record against them and an important tiebreaker in a seeding battle that looks closer by the day.
Predicting these upcoming games is a near impossibility. Not that it was easy beforehand, but the surge in COVID cases is making these teams unrecognizable. It shouldn’t be a surprise that big market teams were afforded game postponements when half of their team tested positive while the Timberwolves are forced to trudge on. I know there are other factors that go into it, but man, that kind of stuff is getting really old.
It’s tough to find a silver lining through all of this nonsense, but one of them is we get to see guys get minutes and roles they otherwise never would have.
For example, Jaden McDaniels didn’t shoot the ball particularly well against the Jazz, but he had one of his most productive games of the season with 16 points, nine rebounds, seven assists, and a block and steal apiece. Similarly, Malik Beasley became one of the primary scoring options instead of an ancillary piece, which resulted in 33 points on 7-16 shooting from three. I don’t expect that to happen regularly, but maybe it gets him out of the rut he’s been in all season.
Finally, we’re starting to get some Nathan Knight minutes. I don’t blame you if you have zero idea who that is, I wrote about him here before the season started, but he has been impressive in the limited minutes he’s gotten throughout his career. Knight likely won’t ever vie for a starting spot, but if he keeps playing hard, he could be another Jarred Vanderbilt-esque role player to slide in next to Karl-Anthony Towns and Naz Reid to bolster the team rebounding and rim protection. If Knight ends up emerging as a legitimate piece, it would also afford the Timberwolves to move McDaniels to the small forward role full time, which Coach Finch has said is their long-term plan.
As mentioned at the top, the Wolves have four games this week (home for the Celtics and Knicks and then at the Jazz and Lakers). With more than half of the active roster currently in the Health & Safety Protocols (including four of five starters), these next two games could be pretty ugly, but the hope is that Minnesota gets some of their key players back by the time they set out on a three-game road trip.