There has been no shortage of reasons for Minnesota Timberwolves fans to become frustrated with how their favorite team has performed through the mid-way point of the 2022-23 NBA season.
Out of four options available to fans in a survey posted last week, a lack of consistent effort ran away with the top spot.
The Timberwolves are still, somehow, learning that if the effort isn’t there for all four quarters, they just don’t have the firepower that can continually dig them out of deep holes like they did in Thursday night’s 14-point fourth quarter comeback over the Toronto Raptors.
Minnesota has lost to the Charlotte Hornets, the Detroit Pistons and San Antonio Spurs twice, the Utah Jazz twice at home, the Oklahoma City Thunder at home, and a JV Miami Heat team playing without Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo.
Fans expect their team to play hard every single night, no matter who is suiting up on the other end of the floor. This Wolves team would’ve beaten all of those teams if they simply played harder than the opponent. If you just count the home games in that stretch, they would be 28-19 and the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference. Instead, they sit at 23-24, 4.5 games back of the surprising Sacramento Kings.
Unfortunately, the Timberwolves have made a habit of taking their foot off the gas when they build big leads in the first half. They blew a 14-point halftime lead to the Pistons, a five-point lead with four minutes left in New Orleans, a seven-point lead at home to OKC, a 13-point lead in Charlotte, and more recently, a 10-point fourth quarter lead at home to Utah followed by a five-point lead with three minutes left to Denver.
There is a difference between losing close games because you miss open shots or the opponent makes tough shots that you’ll live with them taking, and consistently surrendering second chances, committing lazy turnovers, getting beat in transition, and allowing uncontested driving lanes to the rim. The beauty of last year’s Wolves squad was that they truly felt the only way they could win games was to out-work the other team by doing all the dirty work between getting on the floor for 50/50 balls, leaving everything out there on defense, and consistently winning the points off turnovers battle.
This season’s Timberwolves team is not last year’s team. It is more talented, has a higher ceiling, and is capable of taking this franchise to places it hasn’t been since 2004. But if they can’t enter every game with the necessary level of desperation and fight, they’ll find themselves in the Play In Tournament wishing they would’ve taken care of business sooner.
This team and organization cannot in good faith try to sell patience to a fan base it hit marketed a new era and taking a big step forward to. Through 47 games last year, the Wolves were actually better (24-23) than they are this year (23-24). While injuries have certainly factored into that, if the effort of the players they do have matched the collective effort of last year’s squad, it’d be a completely different conversation.
Fans should not accept anyone defaulting to blame injuries or a lack of continuity, or claiming moral victories instead of taking accountability for the team’s poor start. Words are nice, but play speaks volumes.
While Thursday night was a great step in that direction in extremely adverse conditions (given the game the night before at altitude in Denver), but it won’t mean anything if the Wolves don’t build on it. They need to carry that same fight forward for a key stretch; of the 14 games in between now and the All-Star break, 10 of them are against teams currently above them in the Western Conference standings, with five at home and five on the road.
That will tell us what we need to know about this team’s playoff viability.