The season of streaky play continues for the Minnesota Timberwolves. A seven-game winning streak gave way to a six-game losing streak. Now it’s turned into a little four-game run after the Wolves beat the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday night. While it’s been nerve-wracking at times, the Timberwolves have looked like a playoff contender more often than not this season. That is a remarkable change of pace for a team with intimate familiarity with the Western Conference basement.
The win against Dallas is a game that the “Old Wolves” would have lost. Minnesota clung onto a tight lead for most of the game but kept fighting. When the Mavs threw punches, the Wolves punched back enough to keep the momentum in their favor at home. At 15-15, they are back to .500, and everything seems to be looking up again.
Winning is a great feeling. Minnesota sports fans do not often get to enjoy this feeling outside of the Lynx. That scarcity is exacerbated by the historical ineptitude of the Timberwolves. Turning on the game is a practice that is often prefaced with a rite of acceptance and clarity.
At least, that was until this season. Wolves fans can turn on the game and expect to win on any given night. The penance and suffering of the fanbase is starting to bear fruit as Minnesota finds itself in the thick of the playoff chase. That expectation aligns with a massive culture shift that has influenced everyone, from the players to the coaching staff and the fans.
Despite this newfound happiness, there are always people who discredit the hard work of a team that has paid its dues. The victory over the Los Angeles Lakers, the NBA’s darling, has exposed the entitlement of a fanbase that has no idea how to cope with losing.
Supporters of Minnesota basketball should feel proud to have professional media analysts that act, well, professionally. The comments from Derek Fisher (of all people) following Minnesota’s second blowout win over the Lakers this season were misguided and disrespectful. Fisher was completely dismissive of a team that thoroughly dismantled his Lakers on national television.
Instead of talking about the things that the Timberwolves did well, Fisher and subsequent Lakers fans elected to knock Minnesota for *checks notes* the following:
- Trying Hard
- Not Having As Many Players Out
- Beating the Lakers (How dare they?)
The commentators made a point to poke fun at Karl-Anthony Towns acting like he “won Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals,” while Fisher would go on to lament the notion that the Timberwolves should “act like they’ve been there before.”
The truth is, they haven’t.
Not since 2004, anyway. The Timberwolves haven’t sniffed success for the better part of the last two decades. Minnesota is firmly entrenched as one of the small-market laughingstocks of the NBA. Players expect to roll into Minneapolis to get easy wins against a directionless, talent-devoid assembly. Not this year.
Again, why is this an issue? Why take offense to Minnesota’s players celebrating even a modicum of success over a bitter rival?
It is comments like Fisher’s that discredit the plight of small-market teams that are struggling to stay relevant in the era of player empowerment. As players flock to the big cities for sunnier skies and greener pastures, so too do the fans. To be this publicly dismissive of the Wolves’ newfound success is only working to widen the gap between the haves and the have-nots.
If one were to bite for just a second, you could acknowledge that the Lakers may have indeed been playing “with an arm tied behind their back,” as per Fisher’s tirade. The Lakers were missing Dwight Howard, Avery Bradley, Malik Monk, Trevor Ariza, Talen Horton-Tucker, and Austin Reaves. The Lakers also lost Anthony Davis in this game after LeBron James pushed Jaden McDaniels into Davis’ knee, and Davis sprained his MCL. Their shorthanded-ness was apparent as the replacements struggled to replicate the success of the guys who are regularly in the rotation.
Then again, the Lakers still had LeBron, Russell Westbrook, and Carmelo Anthony playing big minutes for them. Their resumes speak for themselves, regardless of age. Oh yeah, and Anthony Edwards was out. It is hard to feel sympathetic for a team that liquidated all of its young and exciting depth for an opportunity to bring in the artist formerly known as Mr. Triple-Double to appease LeBron. The Lakers’ failures this season are entirely self-wrought, and the fanbase appears to be struggling with the reaping portion of what they have sewn.
Knocking Towns for “trying too hard” is an interesting take, especially considering Towns’ preceding reputation(s) for not being able to deliver in the clutch moments of games. “Soft” is a label that has followed Towns since Jimmy Butler concocted that entire marketing strategy to jettison himself out of Minnesota. The minute Towns begins to shed this portrayal, the inverse was thrown in his face as a discreditation.
My question for Fisher, Lakers fans, and the coastal elites is this: Why aren’t the players allowed to celebrate? Why aren’t they allowed to play with intensity and heart?
Teeing up the Timberwolves on national television is the equivalent to any collegiate football team booking the local senior center to suit up for their homecoming game. You’re expecting to roll over an inferior opponent. But when that underdog fights back, you cannot rag on them for going out and being the better team.
Los Angeles went out and got nearly every single player LeBron wanted, and they are still struggling. The Timberwolves recently held the worst win percentage in American professional sports, but now a former Laker is telling them how to celebrate. To gatekeep the optimism surrounding a team of Minnesota’s gravitas (or lack thereof) is indicative of a larger culture problem in the NBA. It is similarly irresponsible to continue to spew this nonsense on a local sports network after a terrible loss.
The bottom line is this: The Lakers are bad this year, and they won’t sniff the Larry O’Brien trophy in 2022. The Timberwolves won’t sniff a championship this year either, but at least they’re going to have fun trying to get there. The bar for success is different in Minnesota than in Los Angeles, but that distinction is not a free pass to tear down a team that is seeing a potentially sustainable model of success after so much failure.
Los Angeles was a 1-point favorite at the Target Center and blew it. Sunday night they lost to a Chicago Bulls team missing Zach LaVine, giving up 38 points to a 32-year-old DeMar DeRozan. Los Angeles has bigger problems than to glorify a color commentator telling the Timberwolves players “how to win.”
Now 16-15, the Lakers sit only half of a game above Minnesota in the Western Conference standings. Panic sirens should be ringing from the rooftops all over Los Angeles. For once, alarms aren’t sounding in Minnesota. I like the sound of that.