How do Timberwolves Eliminate Suns from NBA Playoffs?

Minnesota Timberwolves, Phoenix Suns
Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Well Minnesota Timberwolves fans, the 2024 NBA Playoffs are nearly upon us. Their matchup vs the Phoenix Suns — who didn’t just beat the Wolves in the season finale, but beat them all three times the two squad met this season — isn’t ideal.

But now that the playoffs are here, we have to hope the Wolves are prepared to throw all of that out the window, because this team can’t afford to lose three games in a row to the Suns anymore. Otherwise, they’ll be in serious danger of yet another first-round elimination (11th in franchise history).

But the Timberwolves didn’t lead the Western Conference for most of the season, just to flop in the playoffs. That’s not why Tim Connelly assembled this roster. So what do the Timberwolves need to do to overcome the Suns in a best-of-7 playoff series? Let’s take a look.

Timberwolves’ size needs to be an advantage, not disadvantage

NBA Playoffs: Phoenix Suns at Minnesota Timberwolves
Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

At the end of the day, this series will likely come down to playing style. If the Wolves can slow the game down and use their size as an advantage, it’s difficult to see Phoenix coming out on top.

But, if the Suns are able to turn this series into a track meet that forces KAT and Rudy to lumber up and down the floor more often than they are anchoring the paint… the next couple weeks will be hard to watch for Wolves fans.

The Timberwolves need to play an old-school brand of basketball against the Suns. Make Kevin Durant guard KAT down low. Make him bang down low for rebounds with Rudy Gobert. Then, get back on defense and force them to play in the halfcourt. Here’s former Timberwolves player, coach and now NBA TV analyst, Sam Mitchell, on KSTP with Darren “Doogie” Wolfson.

“I think for the Wolves, they gotta use their size. They gotta slow the game down, they gotta play inside-out. When they do miss, they gotta send those three big guys to the glass, and crash, so it keeps Phoenix from running out and it also makes Kevin Durant play dirty basketball. They gotta make Kevin Durant guard Karl-Anthony Towns and the only way to do that is to slow the game down and make Phoenix play a half court game.”

Sam Mitchell – KSTP interview with Darren Wolfson

Related: Timberwolves Open NBA Playoffs as 3-Seed Underdogs vs Nightmare Matchup Suns

Minnesota Timberwolves must play smart, limit turnovers

One of the biggest differences between the Suns and the Timberwolves in the regular season finale was the turnover discrepancy. Phoenix finished with 12, and Minnesota doubled that effort with 24. All five members of the starting lineup ‘contributed’ to this aspect, with Karl-Anthony Towns and Ant leading the way with five apiece. That crap can’t happen in the playoffs.

Yet, it’s been a problem all season, with the Wolves ranking 22nd in turnovers committed. Amazingly, the Suns were actually worse, ranking 25th in turnovers on the season. Sure, the Timberwolves won the turnover battle in one of their three Suns losses and tied in another, but what matters most is their recent adventure because that’s where this team is at right now.

Related: 10 Greatest Minnesota Timberwolves Players Of All-Time

If Finchy can get the Timberwolves to make smarter decisions early, they’ll have more margin for error later on when the game is on the line. But in a perfect world, the Wolves win the turnover battle, which could end up being a key factor throughout the NBA Playoffs in Minnesota.

Defend for all four quarters

Now that the Suns are coming to town, the Timberwolves need to get even tighter on defense. This is a Phoenix team that can shoot lights out. Two of their starters, Kevin Durant and Devin Booker, average 27 points per game; both rank in the top six of the NBA.

Their third All-Star, Bradley Beal, is no slouch either. While his field goal attempts are at a new career low, his effective field-goal percentage is at a new career high, and this is a player with a career scoring average of 21.8 PPG. Simply put, the Wolves can’t allow any of these three scorers to get comfortable.

To do so, it’s going to take all five players on the floor dedicating themselves to playing the same shutdown defense we’ve witnessed all season long.

Related: NBA Legend Jerry West Gushes Over Timberwolves; Loves Them in Playoffs

Whether it’s Edwards’ suffocating defense, McDaniels’ swarming length, or Gobert’s ability to chew up basketballs in the paint like he’s the Cookie Monster, the Timberwolves can’t afford to have mental lapses in the playoffs, and it all starts with effort. Luckily, that’s the most controllable factor in the game.

It doesn’t always take talent, sometimes it just takes hard work. Let’s hope the Minnesota Timberwolves brought their hard hats and lunch pails because they still have a long way to go before hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy for the first time in franchise history.

Target Center fans must bring the energy

NBA: Washington Wizards at Minnesota Timberwolves
Credit: Matt Blewett-USA TODAY Sports

It doesn’t matter if the Timberwolves get off to another slow start, where they find themselves down 22 points at the end of the first quarter as they were in the season finale against Phoenix. Now’s not the time to get in your feels, or feel sappy about the potential end of a magical Wolves’ season.

This is the modern NBA, where the 3-point play reigns supreme. Twenty-point leads can be erased in a matter of minutes. If the Suns can get out to a 22-point lead, then the Timberwolves can put up points in a hurry too, as we’ve seen time and time again all season long.

So, if you’re planning to attend the Target Center, you have one job. Be as loud as you f—ing can.

Athletes feed off the energy in the building, whether they’re winning or losing. A quiet atmosphere isn’t going to pull this team out of the doldrums, but exploding with excitement at every winning play that gets made could go a long way toward rebuilding the confidence of a young team that has yet to experience playoff success. As good as Anthony Edwards is, he still needs your help.

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