After a week-long hiatus due to the NBA All-Star break, the Minnesota Timberwolves finally return to action later tonight as they kick off their home stretch of the 2021-22 regular season with a home game against the Memphis Grizzlies.
As we ramp up for these final 23 games, there is plenty to be excited about. Minnesota currently finds themselves 7th in the Western Conference, 2.5 games behind the 6th-seed Denver Nuggets, and are simultaneously 8 games ahead of the 11th-seeded San Antonio Spurs. In other words, playoff basketball (in some shape or form) is on the horizon, which makes this final stretch of regular season games even that much more important.
The upcoming schedule is indeed filled with a lot of tough games, including an immediate back-to-back situation at home against the Memphis Grizzlies (tonight) and the new-look Philadelphia 76ers (tomorrow). In total, the Wolves will play 13 of their remaining 23 games at home (that’s the good news), but 13 of those 23 games will also come against teams currently .500 or above (that’s the bad news).
From a fan’s perspective, it’s obvious that the best result for this final month or so of the regular season is for the Wolves to miss the play-in tournament altogether and finish 6th (or optimistically 5th). If that WERE to happen, and assuming the top of the Western Conference does NOT change between now and April, that would mean a first-round playoff series against the Grizzlies (or a first-round playoff series against the Utah Jazz if the Wolves somehow climbed all the way to 5th).
Conversely, if the West standings remain mostly unchanged and Minnesota secures the 7th spot, they would host at least one home “playoff” game as part of the play-in tournament, likely squaring off against either of the Los Angeles-based teams. Say they win that game, then the 7th is obviously theirs, but if they were to falter, that would mean another play-in game (at Target Center) against the winner of the 9/10 matchup.
I say all of that to simply say this — there are a LOT of scenarios that could (and will) play out over the next handful of weeks. Memphis and Golden State are currently in a tight race for the 2-seed, and while the Phoenix Suns have a stranglehold on the top spot, they will be without Chris Paul for the next 6-8 weeks which could (possibly) shake things up.
Ideally, I obviously want to see the Timberwolves finishing in the 6th or 7th seed, but in order to get the 6th seed, they are going to have to keep up with the Nuggets, who have a much lighter schedule to finish off the season. A 15-8 record to finish the season looks realistic, followed by a couple of losses from the Denver Nuggets, could potentially steal the 6th seed.
At the moment, the Wolves are ranked 14th in the NBA defensively, after a severe drop-off in the month of February. The obvious hope is that Chris Finch has (or will) address this during the break and that the Wolves come out tonight a lot stronger on that end of the floor. Back towards the beginning of the season, we saw D’Angelo Russell be one of the more vocal leaders on defense, and as a unit, they were in the top 10.
As mentioned at the top, the Timberwolves kick off the home stretch of the season later tonight against the Grizzlies and then will quickly turn around home another home game against the 76ers. While the remaining schedule is indeed loaded with home games, it also comes at a time that many other teams across the league are making their final push as well to claw up their respective standings. These next six or so weeks should be a wild ride, and it will be really fun to see where this current Wolves team stands come playoff time.
Let’s get that 6th spot!