After the Minnesota Timberwolves were officially eliminated from the NBA In-Season Tournament following the Sacramento Kings’ victory over the Golden State Warriors late Tuesday night, the NBA added two previously unscheduled games to the Wolves’ schedule to account for Minnesota not making the knock-out rounds.
First, Victor Wembanyama and the 3-14 San Antonio Spurs will visit Target Center next Wednesday, December 6 in a 6:30 PM CT game that will air on ESPN. That is big for a Wolves squad that only had five originally scheduled national TV games (counting only ESPN/TNT games).
Then, the Timberwolves will head back to the Home of the Blues for another matchup with the 3-13 Memphis Grizzlies next Friday, December 8 at 7 PM CT. This game will be part of Ja Morant’s 25-game suspension, so he will not play, along with several Grizzlies rotation players dealing with longer-term injuries.
The team will announce local broadcast plans for the games at a later date.
As one of the wilder aspects of the In-Season Tournament, before the event began, the league announced that it would add two games for the 22 teams that don’t make the quarterfinals. The reason for this is that the NBA scheduled only 80 games for each team before the season.
Because the quarterfinals and semifinals of the In-Season Tournament count as regular season games towards standings and statistics, and it would be unfair for those teams to play in two additional games simply because they advanced in the tournament.
So how did the league determine these matchups? Here is their official statement on the logic:
A formulaic approach will determine the matchups for these games using the Group Play standings in each conference (5th-15th).
Two of the 22 games will be scheduled cross-conference since there will be an odd number of teams in each conference that do not advance to the Quarterfinals. These cross-conference games will be scheduled between bottom-finishing teams in the Group Play stage subject to travel constraints, and no team will play more than one of its two games cross-conference.
The other 20 games will be scheduled within conference featuring teams that are otherwise scheduled to play each other three times over the course of the season wherever possible.
TL;DR — the Wolves would play a Western Conference team they were only scheduled to play three times.
Six teams (ranked here by seed/record entering games on Wednesday, November 29) fit that bill:
- #4 Phoenix Suns (11-6)
- #6 Sacramento Kings (10-6)
- #8 Houston Rockets (8-7)
- #10 Golden State Warriors (8-10)
- #14 Memphis Grizzlies (3-13)
- #15 San Antonio Spurs (3-14)
But that pool shrunk to four when the Suns and Kings advanced to the quarterfinals. So, of the four opponents and all the potential schedule combinations, the best possible outcome for Minnesota was to face Memphis and San Antonio, which is exactly what happened.
Talk about lucking out.
These are the breaks that can go a long way down the stretch of the season when teams are fighting for playoff position in a stacked Western Conference. This draw may seem generous when you consider that the Wolves have already defeated the the Miami Heat without Jimmy Butler, the New Orleans Pelicans without Zion Williamson twice, the Warriors without Stephen Curry (and Draymond Green and Klay Thompson obviously by their own doing), the Philadelphia 76ers without Joel Embiid, and the Grizzlies without Morant.
But NBA teams can only play the teams in front of them, and with wins over an essentially fully loaded Boston Celtics squad, the Denver Nuggets with all their guys playing, a fully healthy Oklahoma City Thunder group and a tough New York Knicks team, it’s hard to think the Wolves are fraudulent at this point. If anything, it’s a great sign that this Timberwolves team is actually beating teams they should beat after everything we saw last year.
For now, the 13-4 (!), first-place Timberwolves will continue to enjoy a good schedule break with four extremely winnable games:
- Thursday, 11/30 vs Utah Jazz
- Saturday, 12/2 at Charlotte Hornets likely without LaMelo Ball
- Wednesday, 12/6 vs Spurs
- Friday, 12/8 at Grizzlies
But after that, the schedule gets extremely tough with 11 of the team’s next 16 games on the road. 10 of those 11 are against teams currently projected to be in the NBA Playoffs, with the one non-playoff team being the No. 9 seed Pelicans (and we now what Zion did to the Wolves in New Orleans last season).
Safe to say it’s a good thing the Wolves have gotten off to a fast start. The great news is that if the Timberwolves go .500 for the rest of the campaign, they’d finish (roughly) with a 46-36 record. That would’ve been the No. 4 seed last season. But Minnesota undoubtedly has their sights set higher than that, so sit back and enjoy the ride.