The NBA season is a stretch of runs. Streaks — winning and losing — give and take hope in a flash. They have you thinking that this might be the year they make a run, or that loss to the Rockets in January is where everything went wrong.
The Minnesota Timberwolves have a stretch ahead of them that will highlight what this team is made of. So far this season, there have been questions about the team’s resiliency. Their ability to show up for a back end of a back-to-back. Their ability to show up for a game against the Charlotte Hornets in late November.
Now with 11 games before the All-Star break — and eight before the trade deadline — Minnesota has a chance to entrench themselves in the thick of the Western Conference playoff picture, gaining some momentum before (hopefully) they get All-NBA center Karl-Anthony Towns back for the home stretch.
The Wolves have three games in four days to end the month of January, beginning with a battle against the Memphis Grizzlies tonight. The No. 2-seeded Grizzlies have lost their last four games, falling to the Golden State Warriors, Sacramento Kings, Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Lakers. Before the losing skid, they had won 11 straight.
Desmond Bane had been surging since the calendar flipped to 2023, averaging 21 points per contest and 50% from 3-point range. His floor-spacing and defense will be crucial for a Memphis team that will look to attack the Wolves’ drop coverage with high pick-and-rolls with Ja Morant.
Minnesota will then get two games against the 3-seed Kings at Target Center, with matchups on Saturday and Monday. Much like the Memphis, how the Wolves compete against the (current) top teams in the West will be the foundation of potential-playoff-matchup podcasts and articles in about two months.
There’s a real possibility the Timberwolves find themselves planning for a playoff series will the Grizzlies or Kings, making the upcoming games valuable film for the future. The same could be said for the Warriors, who the Wolves play at home on Feb. 1.
The defending champs visit Target Center for the fourth game of a six-game home stand, which is followed by 13 road games in their 21 games after the All-Star break.
Steph Curry is back for Golden State, making them primed for a rise in the standings. Since returning, he’s averaging 27 points per game on 37% shooting from beyond the arc.
After a break in the Western Conference action against the Orlando Magic (5-5 in their last ten) on Feb. 3, the Timberwolves will hit a gauntlet that includes two matchups with the Denver Nuggets, a game against Walker Kessler and the Utah Jazz, and then they face off against the Grizzlies and Dallas Mavericks.
That means Minnesota has nine games against top-10 Western Conference teams before the All-Star break. The No. 10 Jazz are just four games back of the No. 3 Kings, highlighting just how packed the conference’s standings are at the moment.
As mentioned, the Wolves’ stretch before the break will almost certainly include a matchup with their future first-round playoff or play-in opponent.
Therefore, these are the games that fans will look back on to prepare for postseason play. Anthony Edwards will have to continue his recent dominance — 26.5 PPG in January — to keep the Timberwolves alive in these games. It seems a given that he’ll show up for games with playoff-like feel and implications, but what will be more interesting to watch is how the rest of the team responds.
Battling through injuries — Gobert dealing with groin soreness, Taurean Prince with an ankle sprain — will yet again test the resiliency and depth of this team.
Minnesota has a real chance here to steal a few wins that could be impactful come April. Not just that, but surging into the All-Star break is key. If Karl-Anthony Towns comes back to a team that didn’t limp into the break, inevitable re-acclimation hiccups will be much less concerning.
Trades — both for the Wolves or teams they face — before the Feb. 9 deadline could throw the wrench into everything, but it won’t change the profound impact this stretch of games may have as the end of the season draws near.