It’s been a rocky year for your Minnesota Timberwolves, and the jubilation of Naz Reid’s game-tying three-pointer on Friday night followed by ultimately losing a game that was there for the taking being the perfect encapsulation of the roller coaster. The highest of highs only end up being an opportunity to make up for past mistakes, with new missteps right around the corner. The absence of All-NBA center Karl-Anthony Towns has obviously played a massive factor, but that’s how you look up 68 games into the season and sit at .500.
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At 34-34, the Wolves are currently in eighth place in the crowded Western Conference. Whether you are optimistic due to the fact that Minnesota is just one game back of the fifth place Los Angeles Clippers or pessimistic since Minnesota is only a game and a half clear of the 11th place Utah Jazz, is an eye of the beholder situation. At DraftKings, the view is a bit closer to the pessimistic side, with the Wolves sitting at +145 to make the playoffs. That implies that Minnesota roughly has a 40% chance to play in a seven game series in April.
The way the oddsmakers see it, seven teams are practically locks in the West, with the final spot coming down to the Los Angeles Lakers and the Wolves. Los Angeles is currently -150 to make the playoffs, which gives an implied probability of, you guessed it, 60%. Unsurprisingly, DraftKings also sees Minnesota (-205) and Los Angeles (-185) as the two most likely teams to participate in the Western Conference Play-In Tournament.
Of course, that would be appointment viewing for numerous reasons, with the Lakers essentially assembling the 2021-22 Timberwolves with LeBron James and Anthony Davis in place of Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns being the main one.
What makes it so hard to predict is the injury situation. James is currently out with an ankle injury and is set to be re-evaluated in a couple weeks, but it didn’t sound like the Lakers expected him to return that quickly. Anthony Davis has taken his game to another level of late, looking like the player that Los Angeles expected to get when they traded for him.
The Timberwolves injury situation with Karl-Anthony Towns is just as precarious. After the trade of D’Angelo Russell, this team is absolutely starving for more individual offensive punch. Towns returned to some semblance of practice this week, but the team still refuses to place a timeline on his return. With only 14 games remaining, every day is vital. If he returns in a week, he’ll likely only miss another 3-4 games before returning. If it’s two more weeks, that number rises to 7-8, and suddenly theres only a handful of games left.
That, I would imagine, is why the Lakers have better odds to make the playoffs than the Wolves do. At this point, the Wolves chances largely lands on their ability to remain in the top-8 of the standings. Obviously, getting to the fifth or sixth seed is not out of the question. They’re half of a game out of sixth and a game out of fifth. You don’t have to squint too hard to see them making up that much ground.
If they can’t avoid the Play-In altogether, getting seventh or eighth is an absolute must in order to get the guarantee of two games. This is very, very watered down, basic math, but if we assume that the strength of the teams in the Play-In is relatively equal, the probability of losing two coin-flip games consecutively is 25%. That of course doesn’t guarantee that you’re going to make the playoffs, but it gives you a better shot than falling into ninth and needing to win two in a row to get in.
Again, the Wolves biggest issue here is the Lakers. They are on a tear since the trade deadline, going 8-3 since the trade deadline despite LeBron James only playing in three of those games. They’re right on Minnesota’s heels (half of a game back), and threatening to crash the party.
I wish I could be more optimistic about this team’s playoff chances, but I’m just not. I think the odds are about right at the moment, but if I had to make a pick, give me the Los Angeles Lakers to make the playoffs at -150.