The Final Stretch Will Be An Intriguing Playoff Preview For the Wolves

Photo Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

It has been an exciting season for the Minnesota Timberwolves but has gone quickly. The playoffs are just around the corner, making it the right time to speculate how they will fare as we begin the regular season’s stretch run. The Wolves have held the 1-seed in the West for most of the season. Still, they could face a challenging matchup in the first round because the Western Conference has been as competitive as ever this year.

The West’s best teams have held strong. But even the teams holding up the bottom of the play-in feature star talent, making the route to playoff success more difficult for everyone. But that’s especially true for the Wolves, who will be holding onto the expectations of a high seed whether they like it or not. They must take strides forward as they seek their first playoff series win since the 2003-04 season.

While the Wolves have been on pace to tie a franchise-record 58 wins this year, it has come with some important resumé builders. The Wolves hold the Western Conference’s best record against teams .500 or above. They are 23-12 against such teams, only trailing the Boston Celtics for the league’s best winning percentage.

Here is how they compare to their Western Conference foes: Standings through February 27.

Naturally, the teams that get the job done against the league’s best will likely be at the top of the standings. That gives the Wolves some cushion and shows they have fully earned their status in the West. Minnesota sits in a favorable situation compared to other West contenders like the Oklahoma City Thunder, Denver Nuggets, and the Los Angeles Clippers. The Timberwolves have won significantly more games against .500 teams than (list the two teams). However, comparing the teams’ star power does get tricky, but that’s true for the entire conference.

Look at the top six teams in the West:

Then consider De’Aaron Fox, Luka Doncic, Stephen Curry, LeBron James, and Anthony Davis play in the West. It will be difficult for anybody in the West to find a favorable matchup; there will be no easy routes. Every playoff team has elite talent that will make it supremely difficult to cruise through a seven-game series.

That’s why it’s helpful that the league gave the Wolves prime opportunities to see how their team matches up to the best in the West in their final 23 games.

In this final stretch, the Wolves will play

  • 3 games against Denver (39-19), two of which are on the road. One home game and one away game are the second game of a back-to-back.
  • 2 games against Cleveland (38-19). One is at home, but the other is away and is the second game of a back-to-back.
  • 2 games against the Clippers (37-19), one at home and one away.
  • 2 games against Phoenix (34-24), one at home and one away.
  • 2 games against the Lakers (31-28), and both are away games.

The Wolves have performed well against the West’s best teams and must continue to do so in the playoffs. Therefore, Minnesota’s final regular-season matchups will be vital because we’ll see how they match up against some of the league’s best teams and potential playoff foes.

Each game will be a unique test. Denver is playing its best basketball at the perfect time. The Nuggets will test Minnesota. Jokic is a formidable foe for Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert, while Jaden McDaniels and Anthony Edwards must deal with Jamal Murray on the perimeter. The Wolves can only learn how good they are by playing teams with championship DNA.

The Cavs and Lakers offer a similar test because they have a lot of size. Cleveland’s starting lineup features a duo of 6’11” bigs, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen, who will test Minnesota’s ability to match up against a team with a similar identity. The same goes for the Lakers. While they have been inconsistent this year, they have star power with LeBron and Davis. LA also has size, strength, and driving ability, which will force KAT and Rudy to be at their best.

However, Phoenix and the Clippers are completely different teams. They rely on their swing-men to get the job done offensively and aren’t afraid to go small in the clutch. This season, we saw the Wolves dominate the Clippers in the paint during both matchups. However, their shot-making and spacing are still a threat to Minnesota.

On the other hand, Phoenix has toggled around with smaller lineups. Sometimes, they use Kevin Durant at the 5. That allows them to space the floor, attack gaps, and take advantage of the opponent through his and Booker’s shot creation. The Wolves have only faced the Suns once this season, and it came in the second game of a back-to-back at the end of a long West Coast road trip.

These matchups are excellent examples of how different each of Minnesota’s potential playoff series could be. They will provide the ultimate primer for the Wolves.

Luckily for the Wolves, they have already established themselves as an elite team, according to “The Phil Jackson Rule.” The 11-time NBA champion stated that for a team to be considered title contenders, they must have 40 wins before they have 20 losses. Put differently, they must win two-thirds of their first 60 games of the season. The Wolves have time to prepare for the playoffs, but beating the West’s best teams down the stretch is the only way to show the rest of the league they’re a bona fide contender.

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Photo Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Each NBA season has 82 games. 4 games against your four other divisional opponents 4 games against six other non-divisional interconference opponents 3 games against the remaining […]

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