A few Timberwolves items to touch on as the season winds down:
- The Wolves lost both ends of a road back-to-back this week. On Tuesday at Sacramento they lost by 5. That doesn’t seem so bad until you realize that the Kings — perhaps also wanting to lose for boosted lottery position — held DeMarcus Cousins out of the game. Rudy Gay scored 33 for Sactown. Omri Casspi poured in 31 of his own. Derrick Williams had 18. Yeah.
The next night at Portland, against a very good Blazers team (but one the Wolves beat in the last game Kevin Garnett played in) the Wolves got predictably throttled. They trailed by 10 after the first quarter, 19 at the half, and lost by 25.
- They continue to sit their best players, aside from Kevin Martin who has returned to action. Garnett, Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic, Shabazz Muhammad, Gary Neal, and Anthony Bennett remain out.
Despite the miserable circumstances he’s been intentionally placed in, Andrew Wiggins continues to impress. Against the Kings he had 26 points and 8 rebounds in +13 action. Against Portland, Wiggins dropped 29 points, along with 5 boards and 4 assists. As was obvious months ago, he’ll win the Rookie of the Year, which is what the entire franchise has been emphasizing, and will continue to emphasize as both a legitimate cause for celebration and a distraction from the shameless tanking effort. The Wolves have HUGE questions going forward about their coaching staff and strategy, their team defense, their medical management, and most of their personnel. But unlike most teams in their building stage, they seem to have landed a franchise player, which is the most important and difficult thing to acquire. As much as I hate the basketball that has been played for most of this season, this is a fact worth acknowledging.
* About that tanking effort: With 4 games to go, the Wolves remain in the “2 Seed” for lottery odds, with the league’s second worst record. Their mark of 16-62 is one game “behind” the Knicks’ 15-63. (That overtime Wolves win at New York will probably prove to be decisive in the tank race.) The Wolves “lead” the Sixers by a pair of games in the win column, as Philly is 18-61 with just 3 games to go in their season. The Lakers, tonight’s Wolves opponent, are 20-58, four games behind the Wolves in the tank race.
The Knicks finish at home versus Milwaukee, at Orlando, at Atlanta, and home versus Detroit. It is possible that they’ll win one of those games — Orlando and Detroit are bad, and Atlanta might sit its starters to rest for the playoffs — but it seems unlikely given, well… this:
But it is possible that they win 1 more game, and I’m sure this isn’t lost on Flip Saunders and the Timberwolves powers that be. If they can catch the Knicks, that’ll only increase their lottery odds.
More than catching the Knicks, I’d guess the Wolves are most concerned about staying ahead of Philly. The Sixers close with a road game at Chicago, and then a pair of home games against the Bucks and Heat. The Miami game might be winnable if the Heat are eliminated from playoff contention and have either a tanking agenda (in the event they can catch Charlotte) or just a “who cares?” feeling, finishing on the road with players like Dwyane Wade not wanting to play hard in a meaningless game for a road audience.
The Wolves remaining schedule includes tonight’s road game at the Lakers, then at the Warriors, followed by home games against the Pelicans and Thunder. The Lakers game might be difficult to lose — the Lakers are tanking almost as hard as the Wolves are — but the other three are favorable matchups. The Warriors are incapable of being bad; their second string is better than some healthy NBA starting lineups. The Pelicans and Warriors are tied right now for the Western Conference eighth seed, so those two games may have a lot of importance.
- It was just a formality, but the prime Timberwolves draft targets, Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor, have both declared that they will leave college and enter the draft. Every once in a while a projected high pick stays in school (Harrison Barnes comes to mind) so it’s nice to have that little bit of certainty.
That’s all I’ve got for now.