The Timberwolves and Lakers played a basketball game tonight.
Nobody is quite sure if either team wanted to win it.
The Wolves sat out the following players:
The Lakers sat out the following players:
The remaining players, with the exception of Andrew Wiggins, were not good ones. There was a lighthearted feel to the crowd, the media section, and even the Timberwolves bench (which was heavily populated with players in suits). Everybody seemed to know what was going on. To their credit, the players on the floor — many of the “10-day contract” or “playing for their next contract” varieties — played hard. (When I and others talk about tanking, it should go without saying that we aren’t saying the players on the floor are not trying. It means the team leadership is not doing all they realistically can to try to win the game. The most frequent tactic is “shutting players down” for the year, citing subjective pain complaints or a vague injury that they would play through if the games mattered. The incredibly obvious reason for doing this is that more losses means a higher draft pick. I digress.) Wiggins and LaVine each played about 48 minutes (the game went to overtime) and tried their best. Chase Budinger scored 22 points off the bench, playing a lot of way-overmatched stretch four against Ed Davis.
The Lakers won by two in overtime.
After the game, Flip seemed tired. We all did. Nobody wanted THAT game to last longer than the standard four quarters. Wiggins had a nice game (27/6/4) which Flip acknowledged, but like he has all year, mentioned that Wiggins needs to be more aggressive. He said the same thing about LaVine, who also generated some offense for himself tonight, ending with 18 points, 7 of which coming from the free-throw line, to go along with 5 assists. What’s a little bit confusing (to me, at least) about the constant “aggressiveness” drum-beating is that it never seems like there are clear driving lanes to the basket in the current Timberwolves offense. I don’t really understand where those opportunities are supposed to come from, but this probably isn’t the time of year to be nitpicking x’s and o’s.
With the loss, the Wolves drop to 16-55, and the Lakers “improve” to 19-51. I include scare quotes because the Lakers forfeit their draft pick if it falls outside the top five. They are at risk of that happening and wins like tonight could seriously harm their future if they cause them to lose that pick.
The Wolves now have the second-worst record in the NBA, still only better than the Knicks. The win column is the one to watch, for tanking fans, and they currently have 2 more wins than the Knicks, 2 less than the 76ers and 3 less than the Lakers.
For your information, if they end with the “2nd Seed” in the lottery, their chances of landing each respective pick are as follows (via Wikipedia):
1st – 19.9%
2nd – 18.8%
3rd – 17.1%
4th – 31.9%
5th – 12.3%
I think the Wolves would very much like to get a Top-4 Pick, so that they can end up with one of Jahlil Okafor of Duke, Karl-Anthony Towns of Kentucky, or D’Angelo Russell of Ohio State. I saw “Top 4” to lock one of those guys in because Emmanuel Mudiay (Congo) is likely to go somewhere in the Top 4, and some of the teams that would likely pick ahead of the Wolves in the event they draft 4th, like the 76ers, might prefer Mudiay to the guys the Wolves want.
Just a hunch, but also based on what some of the best beat writers have been hinting at recently. For you math majors out there, the 2-seed gives them an 87.7 percent chance of landing a Top-4 spot, and I think Flip wants to keep that pace through the finish, if at all possible.
If you want to get a look at the possible future Wolves, Towns plays tomorrow night at 8:45 CST versus West Virginia, and Okafor plays at 8:45 CST on Friday night versus Utah. Russell is eliminated from the tourney.
Also, I should add that I discussed Anthony Bennett’s future with the Timberwolves with John Meyer of Canis Hoopus, in a post he published this morning. Link here. Be sure to check that out if you haven’t already.