Cotter Chronicle

Timberwolves’ Stretch Run Begins

Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

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The stretch run for the Timberwolves’ first playoff appearance since 2003-2004 has begun.

The Wolves have seemed like playoff locks for the entire season, but with the injury of star Jimmy Butler, the Timberwolves’ brutal schedule of late, and the strength of the Western conference, their playoff hopes are not a sure thing any longer.

However, the Timberwolves’ recent wins over Washington and Golden State are wins that could have a big impact on making the playoffs. Coming off of their first 3-game losing streak of the season (@Portland, @Utah, vs Boston) the two wins were much-needed but not exactly expected.

When the Timberwolves played the Warriors on Sunday, it felt like playoff basketball had returned to Minnesota.

The intensity of the players was high and the atmosphere of Target Center was electric. Karl-Anthony Towns was fantastic, scoring 16 of his 31 points in the fourth quarter.

If the Timberwolves are going to continue playing well, Karl-Anthony Towns is going to need to continue to carry the team.

If Towns is a top-10 player in the NBA, which many analysts believe he is, he will need to prove it during Jimmy Butler’s absence. The Timberwolves are his team now, and he needs to step up as he has in the last two games.

The loss of Jimmy Butler was a huge blow for the Wolves, as he is their best player and leader. He brings the intensity and competitiveness every night, which the Wolves seem to lack in some games without Butler.

The Wolves’ defense needs to improve during the stretch run as well. Perhaps the most baffling aspect of the Tom Thibodeau Wolves is that nearly two seasons in, the Timberwolves defense has just not been consistent. There have been a few stretches where the Wolves show they can play elite defense, but it has not happened enough, and they now sit 26th in defensive net rating in the NBA. This is very concerning considering Thibodeau is considered a defensive-minded coach.

Another concern is the recent report about Andrew Wiggins being unhappy with his role on the team. Here is the report: Report

Despite the criticisms of Wiggins, he remains one of the most talented players in the league with an incredibly high ceiling. A disgruntled Wiggins is something the Wolves will need to address, as he just signed a 5-year, $146.5 million max contract. This is not something a team focusing on the playoffs will want to deal with.

Luckily for the Wolves, their schedule eases up significantly for the end of the season, playing a majority of their games against lottery-bound teams (Knicks, Grizzlies twice, Hawks, Mavericks, Lakers).

For Wolves fans, enjoy the moment. Enjoy playing meaningful games into March and April. Enjoy finally being in the playoff picture. Enjoy the best Timberwolves squad since the 2003-2004 Western Conference Finals team.

And hopefully, Target Center will be hosting playoff basketball again.

 

Here are the current NBA standings for reference: http://www.nba.com/standings#/

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Timberwolves’ Stretch Run Begins