Timberwolves

Let's Parse Through the Wolves' Six-Game Losing Streak

Photo Credit: Petre Thomas (USA TODAY Sports)

The Minnesota Timberwolves have now lost six games in a row. I’ll say that again: The Minnesota Timberwolves have now lost six games in a row. For many fans, this six-game skid is cause for alarm. A quick trip down the Twitter timeline and it’s clear to see that Timberwolves faithful are in a state of disbelief over this inscrutable streak. Among the fanbase, there are factions looking for something or someone to foist blame onto. There are the DLo Truthers, the Towns trade-machiners, and the Bolmaro cultists, all with their own opinions about the direction of the team.

It’s understandable that fans feel disappointed after the Wolves got out of the gate with a 3-1 start. A big win over the Houston Rockets to start the season felt like the “supposed to” type of win that has so often eluded the Timberwolves. Paired with a win over Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks, it looked like the Wolves had a chance to be legit this year. But the feeling has faded as the losses have piled up.

With each loss, the cries of panic intensify. Yet, we are only 10 games into the season. Some quick math tells me that there is still 88% of the season left to play. That’s a lot of season, so I’m not going to panic. I want to be realistic about the early season and find some reasons to stay hopeful for signs of improvement. For one, the Wolves are already on pace to eclipse their seven pre-All-Star-break wins from a season ago. But, most importantly, I think many of the early losses were reasonable, if not expected.

Remember, oddsmakers had Minnesota’s over/under set at 34.5 to start the season. I’m not saying that Vegas odds are particularly predictive of an NBA team’s capability. I am saying that the general perception of this Wolves team was that, more likely than not, it would be on the outside of the western conference playoff race once again. Frankly, that’s a fair judgment. The Timberwolves are brimming with young talent, but the roster is flawed and many of the young players have yet to prove themselves. All this to say that it’s okay that the Wolves are losing right now. It certainly doesn’t feel good, but there is no reason to press the panic button. I decided the best way to look back on the losses is to put them into categories.

Um…Bad: Orlando Magic and Memphis Grizzlies

Both of these games featured astonishing late-game collapses. Against the Orlando Magic, we watched Franz Wagner have the best game of his young career, and I would bet money it will be his best game all year. The Magic rookie caught fire and finished the game with 28 points.

The game against Memphis featured a collapse of Grizzly proportions. Minnesota was up 14 points with seven minutes left in the game and let it slip away. Karl-Anthony Towns’ freak 3-point shot to tie the game at the end of regulation wasn’t enough to hold back the surging Grizz. They went on to beat the Wolves 125-118.

Both of these losses felt less like I was watching the new, exciting 2021-22 Wolves team and more like its 2020-21 predecessors.

Expected and Okay: Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers

I was low on the Golden State Warriors to start the year, but they are good. Steph Curry is the early MVP favorite, and I don’t think it’s particularly close. The 10-1 Warriors are on pace to beat their all-time best 73-9 record. Obviously, this version of Golden State isn’t that good, but they play with great pace, energy, and movement. The team is incredibly connected on the defensive end, and they have become exceptionally deep with the additions of Nemanja Bjelica, Otto Porter, and Andre Iguodala.

The Wolves had a 2-4 record when they faced the Clippers for the first time. There were serious questions about whether the team could get it done without Kawhi. Since their win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Nov. 1, the Clippers have won six games in a row. They are now 7-4 and look to be back on track to be a playoff team in the Western Conference.

The Wolves are play-in hopefuls, so picking up some games against the best competition in the West is important. But losing to hot teams isn’t the end of the world. Losing to teams who are better than they are isn’t that bad either, especially when it’s a loss that shows some encouraging signs.

Oddly Encouraging: Denver Nuggets

A 93-91 loss to the Denver Nuggets was the beginning of this losing streak. The game that will go down in infamy as “The Buzzer Game.” Had the Denver Nuggets’ shot clock not gone off as Anthony Edwards was racing down the court, this game would’ve gone into overtime. He had a runway to a wide-open dunk. Instead, the buzzer disrupted Ant’s flow and he inexplicably passed the ball to D’Angelo Russell. DLo passed to a streaking Malik Beasley, who was blocked by Will Barton. Edwards got the rebound and short-armed a layup as the clock expired. It hurt.

But the Wolves played the Nuggets and defending league MVP Nikola Jokic well. The Nuggets were held to 40% shooting from the floor and Michael Porter Jr., Denver’s second offensive option, was neutralized. The defense in that game was spectacular. In fact, the spark to the nearly game-winning fast break possession was KAT’s clutch strip. Jokic drove through the lane, and Towns ripped the ball away from him. It was great to see KAT step up at that moment against Jokic, two whom he is so often compared.

3-7 might not look so good on paper, but had a few more things broken right for the Wolves this team could be 5-4 and on a much more positive trajectory. For those who were expecting great things from the Wolves this season, it’s time to recalibrate your expectations. The Wolves will have an uphill battle to make the play-in game, but it’s a battle they can win. As I said, there is so much talent on this team, it’s just a matter of making it all work together.

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Photo Credit: Petre Thomas (USA TODAY Sports)

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