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NBA Play-In Preview: Target Center’s Time To Shine

NBA postseason basketball will once again take place in downtown Minneapolis for just the second time in nearly two decades.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Minnesota Timberwolves David Berding-USA TODAY Sports

There’s no question that the 2021-22 regular season for the Minnesota Timberwolves will go down as one of the most exciting seasons in franchise history, and the end result (thus far) of a 46-36 season will be the biggest game since the infamous “Game 82” matchup against the Denver Nuggets back in 2018. As you all know by now, that game resulted in a playoff birth for Minnesota (as the 8th seed) and ended a 13-year drought of failing to make the playoffs.

While tonight’s game isn’t TECHNICALLY a playoff game (or at least I don’t think it is?), the play-in game between the Timberwolves and the visiting Los Angeles Clippers should be one for the ages. The winner of Tuesday’s game will get a few extra days off before squaring off against the Memphis Grizzlies, while tonight’s loser will have a few days to lick their chops before rebounding at home against the winner of the San Antonio Spurs/New Orleans Pelicans game.

The staff at Canis Hoopus has covered tonight’s play-in game from all angles, including the ten biggest questions entering the night as well as a playoff preview with some very talented individuals who cover the Clippers. To switch things up a bit, I wanted to look at tonight’s game through the lens of the fans, and more specifically through the lens of the Target Center, which will be hosting some version of postseason basketball for just the second time in nearly two decades.

The Moment Things Changed

Flash back with me for a second — in a post-game press conference after a win against the Detroit Pistons back in February, D’Angelo Russell laid down a challenge to Timberwolves fans who attended home games:

While the message did create somewhat of a stir at the time, the intentions of Russell’s comments were nothing but pure, and the results since then have been nothing short of amazing.

For example, the first game back at TC after those comments was against the Charlotte Hornets, and as someone who attended that game, the energy and overall vibe felt exactly like a playoff game. The crowd was standing until the first basket was made, the “Defense!” chants were reminiscent of a Game 7 matchup, and the overall result was a raucous 126-120 overtime victory by the home squad.

My point is — not only did the fans respond, but the players did too. As a fan of the Minnesota Timberwolves, we have grown accustomed to watching games where there is no fight from the team after going down big, but as the Wolves went down 13 (with about 10 minutes left to go), they fought all the way back to force OT and they ended up winning the game as well.

As someone who has frequented many games at Target Center, this was truly a turning point for the season — for both the fans AND the players. The atmosphere at 600 North 1st Avenue has been on another level since that Hornets win, and that type of home court advantage could prove to be an x-factor as soon as tonight against the Clippers. Minnesota finished the season with a home record of 26-15, featuring a 6-game winning streak and a 9-4 record at home after the NBA All-Star break.

What Can We Expect Tonight?

Remember the crowd in game 82 against the Denver Nuggets in 2018? It imagine it’s going to be 100 times more electric.

With a later than usual tip (remember it’s at 8:30pm CST tonight, not the typical 7:00pm CST), I expect an extra rowdy (and extra hydrated) crowd packing all 18,798 seats that Target Center has to offer. Imagine that Miami Heat game back in November but with approximately 1000 times more juice (and importance).

While I fully expect the fans to bring it later tonight, I am also expecting big games from Anthony Edwards and DLO, who tend to play well in these types of big-moment atmospheres. It should be a close, wire-to-wire game, and you already know who I think will come out on top. Leave your predictions below for who secures their playoff spot tonight and safe travels to any and all of you were are making your way down to Target Center for the big game.