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For the Timberwolves, “Moving Day” Has Arrived

Minnesota is in prime position to make a move in the standings

Denver Nuggets v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

Before we dig into the schedule and standings too much, let me just be clear that I’m personally keeping my expectations lower for this team than others might. I’m trying not to put the cart before the horse. This specific team and collective group has been so, so fun. They’ve brought excitement about this franchise back, and that is what is most important to me this year — enjoying that ride. We’ve watched too much bad basketball over the years to take this group of players, and the season they’re giving us for granted. I, more than maybe anyone, just want to enjoy that.

I suppose that’s a roundabout way of saying that even given their recent surge, I’m not going to be devastated if this season ultimately culminates in a loss in the first round of the playoffs.

With all of that said (elite hedging, right?), I believe it’s becoming clear that there is very real potential for this to be more than a play-in team, or more than just an easy first round opponent for a true contender. As Minnesota has gotten healthy and chemistry has built, the evidence of this being a team that can make some legitimate noise is mounting.

In general, a basic rule for being a “contender” is placing in the top-10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Minnesota is toeing that line, and with the offense now playing at the level we expected it to before the season began, there’s good reason to think that efficiency ranking will only continue to rise.

With this in mind, it doesn’t take much to take a look at the upcoming schedule and dream of the possibilities. The Wolves have two in a row against Detroit, and Cade Cunningham just suffered a hip-pointer on Tuesday night. I would guess Minnesota will face a Detroit squad without Cunningham, which is good fortune. Following the home-and-home with Detroit, Minnesota heads to Sacramento for a pair of games. Things are ... rocky in Sacramento. They’ve lost seven games in a row.

Following the All-Star break, Minnesota has a five-game stretch against Oklahoma City (x2), Portland (x2), and Orlando. These are not “gimmes” as we know all too well, but again, that’s another stretch for Minnesota to stack wins and make a move in the standings.

There are no sure things in the NBA, especially during the regular season where there are a million different variables to consider every night, but that is a stretch that Minnesota should dominate, and they should use it as a spring board to make a move in the standings.

Sitting 2.5 games behind Denver for the 6th seed, Minnesota is absolutely within striking distance of that spot, and subsequently, are within striking distance of the 5th seed (3 GB) as well. Getting out of the play-in is the number one priority.

The schedule remains manageable throughout February and March. The team is nearing a clean bill of health once again, and is in a rhythm. The regular season is more complicated than just winning every game you’re favored in and losing the ones you’re not, but the point is that Minnesota now has a very real opportunity to make a push and escape the play-in tournament altogether.

If the Timberwolves ultimately aren’t able to accomplish that, I don’t know that anyone is terrified of the play-in teams, but it would certainly be ideal to avoid having to deal with it at all. Avoiding a Clippers team that may or may not be adding Kawhi Leonard for the stretch run would certainly be preferable, as would protecting yourself from LeBron James in a win-or-go-home setting.

Obviously, it also gives them the opportunity to theoretically draw an “easier” first round matchup, although I’m not sure there’s much difference between any of the top-four teams as it relates to the Wolves. All four of Phoenix, Golden State, Memphis, and Utah are very, very good, and each present their own challenges.

Earlier in the season, the Wolves half-court offense was the obvious eye-sore that could be a major issue in the playoffs, but even that has been fixed of late, in large part to Jarred Vanderbilt’s improved screening and cutting from the dunker’s spot.

With this offensive improvement, the ceiling of the team looks different. The Timberwolves would undoubtedly be underdogs in any first round series they draw, but they wouldn’t and shouldn’t be scared of anyone.

Moving Day has arrived for the Timberwolves. The team is rolling, having just finished a genuinely impressive month of January, with a lighter schedule on the horizon. It would be an overreaction to call it a disaster if they don’t rip off a big winning streak, but the opportunity is certainly there for them to do so.

This has already been the most enjoyable season that I can remember (I’m young, don’t shame me), with the opportunity to get even better. Let’s enjoy the ride.