How Can the Wolves Make Us Unsee What We’ve Seen?

Photo Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

There was a scratch in Anthony Edwards’ voice when he spoke to the media after practice on Wednesday. He had been in the training room, working through his ailments before the playoffs begin on Saturday. The Minnesota Timberwolves play the Phoenix Suns, the only team that swept them in the regular season.

Edwards grew up idolizing Kevin Durant, and the Wolves will likely put him on the 35-year-old scorer. “What makes it different from watching him when I was young?” Edwards said, repeating a reporter’s question. “It’s that he’s actually really that good. You know how you’d be like, ‘Man, he ain’t that good. When I get there, I’ll shut him down.’ Then you get there, and you’re like, ‘He is that good.’”

The Timberwolves will need to shut down Durant, Devin Booker, and Bradley Beal to advance out of the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2004. They weren’t able to limit Phoenix in the regular season. Durant and Booker had 31 points when the Suns beat Minnesota 133-115 in November. Grayson Allen led Phoenix in scoring in Game 2 with 23 points, but the Suns still won 97-87. And Beal (36), Booker (23), Allen (20), and Durant (15) all looked unstoppable in Game 82, a 125-106 Phoenix win.

Vegas opened with even odds on the series. However, as the series nears, the odds have started to favor Phoenix. The Wolves may have home-court advantage, but they’re losing in the court of public opinion. Still, the players believe things will change in the postseason.

“The turnovers, the better first-quarter starts, things like that,” Kyle Anderson said, referring to Minnesota’s shortcomings against the Suns in the regular season. I don’t like to make excuses. They caught us in three tough situations where the league kind of gets you. No excuses. Credit to them; they did a great job in those three games, but it’s a new series tomorrow.”

There were some mitigating circumstances in the regular season. The first matchup came 24 hours after Draymond Green had put Rudy Gobert in a headlock. Green, Klay Thompson, and Jaden McDaniels served a suspension after that game. Minnesota left San Francisco having won two games against the Golden State Warriors, but they had to play in Phoenix a day after that emotional win.

Karl-Anthony Towns missed the second game against Phoenix, a 97-87 defensive battle. But that game came on 48 hours rest, and they had won six of seven games entering it. Most of all, it’s difficult to overlook Game 82. The Suns won a 2:30 pm Sunday game to end the regular season, and all of Minnesota’s stars played in it. However, Towns had returned from injury on Friday against the Atlanta Hawks, and the Wolves were still working him in.

“It gave me a chance to play some five-on-five,” said Towns, looking back at Sunday’s game. “First game back was my third day playing five-on-five. To only have played two days out of three and go out there and play five-on-five in a real game was pretty sweet for me. I enjoyed it a lot. I just wanted to get back out there. I wanted to be part of the NBA game again, feel the excitement, the crowd, the energy and be able to shoot the basketball a little bit.”

By the time the game tips on Saturday, Towns will have had a week to practice and reintegrate with the team. Edwards said that he sees Towns being the MVP of the series because Phoenix will put two or three on him, and Towns will get one-on-one matchups. Rudy Gobert will anchor the defense, and Minnesota’s complementary players likely play an important role. Ultimately, though, Edwards feels the Wolves cannot beat themselves.

“It’s just us making mistakes, making the pass one beat later, one beat too late,” he said. ‘Me playing in crowds. They putting three people on me, so I just got to make the right reads, trust my teammates and when some of my teammates hit those shots, they gonna have to eventually get out of it.”

Vegas may favor Phoenix in the series, but ESPN gives the Timberwolves a 65% chance to win Game 1. It’s hard to see Minnesota beating the Suns four times when Phoenix swept them in the regular season. But they’ve had a week of practice, and all of their stars are available. Most of all, Chris Finch says they need to approach it professionally.

“Play with poise,” he said. “You’re not going to win a series in the first game or win the game in the first quarter. Just go out and do what we do, calm down. There’s going to be some excitement, the building should be electric. But we have to play with the maturity we’ve been playing with all year.”

Act like you’ve been there before, and many of Minnesota’s players have already played in the postseason. Naz Reid and McDaniels missed Round 1 last year with injuries. But Mike Conley and Edwards have ample postseason experience, and Edwards and Towns have lost in the first round the past two years.

Edwards and Towns have been here before, but they must act like it to go somewhere they’ve never been.

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