After yet another convincing win over the Houston Rockets, the Minnesota Timberwolves are 20-20 and .500 on the season. All that talk about Patrick Beverley bringing a winning culture was true. It manifested itself in the preseason, and the results have been seen simply due to Beverley’s presence in the arena. This Timberwolves team is different.
A winning formula is perhaps even more straightforward than the notion of just playing hard. Teams that want to win consistently need to win the games they’re supposed to win.
Winning the games you’re supposed to win is not something that has come easy for Minnesota in the last decade or so. The Timberwolves, much like their Twin Cities NFL counterpart, routinely play down to the level of their competition. The result has been many disappointing and disenfranchising losses for a young team looking to find its stride in the NBA.
So, this all begs the question: what constitutes the criteria of a “Should Win” game?
I’ve narrowed it down to an amalgamation of three factors:
- Teams with a bad record
- Teams in a bad situation (missing star players, are on the back end of a back-to-back, etc.)
- Optically inferior opponents (you know them when you see them)
Without applying too much of a true analytical lens to the “Should Win” premise, the Timberwolves have amassed 11 wins out of 16 possible Should Win matchups.
Of these, they have beaten the following teams:
- Rockets x 2
- New Orleans Pelicans x 2
- Sacramento Kings
- San Antonio Spurs
- Indiana Pacers
- Portland Trailblazers
- Dallas Mavericks (without Luka Doncic)
- Oklahoma City Thunder x 2
Minnesota’s average margin of victory for these Should Win games is 13. Winning by 13 points is not necessarily a blowout, but it is convincing enough for a team trying to prove that it belongs in the playoff race. The closest of these games was the two-point win at home against the Pacers, and the largest margin of victory was the 30-point annihilation of the Thunder a few nights ago.
The five “Should Win” games that the Timberwolves lost were the first two to the Los Angeles Clippers, who until that point had been stumbling out of the gate, the Orlando Magic, the third game of the season to the Pelicans, and the Doncic-less Mavs.
Of these five losses, four have come as a product of these new “miniseries.” These two-game runs where the same teams play each other are newly embedded within the NBA schedule in the post-COVID hellscape that is the planet earth. The Wolves have fallen victim to coaching and personnel adjustments, which have been contributing factors to why Minnesota continues to not perform well during these series.
Last season, the Timberwolves would tend to be on the losing side of many of these games. The heartbreaking loss to the Magic where Cole Anthony hit that game-winning three comes to mind. Some of the lowest of the lows couldn’t get any lower, at least until the next game. It was a dark time in Minnesota basketball history, but I guess that isn’t necessarily anything new.
Not anymore. Again, this team is different.
The Timberwolves have also won a handful of certified “Should Have Lost” games this year. Criteria for this category are more straightforward — certain teams are just flat-out better than Minnesota. These games are perhaps easier to identify. Minnesota is a good team, but they are not quite at the championship level like the Golden State Warriors, Milwaukee Bucks, Phoenix Suns, or other teams of that caliber. Again, though, the ascending teams like the Wolves find a way to turn some of these tough games into wins.
Five victories this year fall into that “Should Have Lost” category based solely on those teams being flat out better than the Timberwolves or that the Wolves historically struggle against those franchises.
Those wins are over:
- Miami Heat
- Philadelphia 76ers
- Memphis Grizzlies
- Denver Nuggets
Beating Milwaukee in their arena in the fourth game of the season was bananas. Jimmy Butler and the Heat are always a tough out. Joel Embiid tends to have his way with KAT. The Grizzlies always play the Wolves tough regardless of how good they are (spoiler: they are very good), and Denver employs the reigning MVP in Jokic. These wins are not only good for morale, but they are crucial in teaching the team how they can sustain high-quality basketball against proven teams.
All in all, the Timberwolves are playing at their level to this point. They are in the thick of the Western Conference playoff chase, and their performances back up that sentiment.
Adding these five wins over superior opponents to the 11 Should Wins equates to 16 wins. Balancing out the five Should Wins that the Wolves inexplicably lost are other sway victories over teams like the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers that could have gone either way. Simply adding those five additional Should Wins places the Timberwolves at 21-19.
Seeing as the team sits at 20-20, I’d say they’re right on track. The Wolves are winning the games they should, and that is going a long way to get back into the playoffs.