Timberwolves Want Playoffs, Not Play-in

Photo: Mitchell Leff – Getty Images

The Minnesota Timberwolves sat two of their three best players on Monday night vs the Portland Trailblazers but it made no difference. Even with Anthony Edwards and D’Angelo Russell on the end of the bench in street clothes, the Wolves dominated an equally undermanned Blazers team by 43 points (124-81), tying the 2nd-largest margin of victory in franchise history. Karl-Anthony Towns was pulled midway through the 3rd quarter because the game was, essentially, over. He was able to pile up 27 points and 13 rebounds in his 2.5 quarters of play (24 minutes).

The atmosphere at Target Center sent chills down the spine of a Timberwolves fan like me, who was raised by Kevin Garnett and the way he fed off of that arena during every home game. And last night, Target Center was, once again, the place to be. It was on fire before the ball tipped and, by the time it was over, fans were doing “the wave” and Patrick Beverley was shooting Crunch’s T-Shirt cannon.

Monday’s victory made five-in-a-row for the Wolves but their hot streak can be traced back much further than that. This is a team that is now 13-4 since January 30, a span that includes victories over Utah, Denver, Cleveland, Golden State and Detroit (twice).

Looking Beyond the Play-In

With 16 games remaining in their 2021-22 regular season, one thing has become clear. The Minnesota Timberwolves will play postseason basketball for the first time since 2017-18 and just the second time since 2003-04.

That’s right, the Wolves are a playoff team… Well, sort of. They’ve guaranteed themselves a top-10 spot in the Western Conference. And top-10 is all that’s needed to make the newly created “play-in tournament”, which was adopted by the NBA as part of their official “Playoffs” before the 2020-21 season.

But to surpass the play-in tournament and guarantee participation in the standard 16-team bracket, the Wolves must climb one more spot in the West, from the 7-seed to the 6-seed, before season’s end. It’s the 7-10 seeds in each conference that enter the play-in tournament and battle for the final (#7 and #8) seeds.

Chasing Denver, Dallas

And there in lies the ultimate goal for head coach Chris Finch, who talked on this subject last week.

“We got to get greedy right now,” coach Chris Finch said. “We’re going to need as many wins as we can get coming down the stretch. We’re going to need as much cushion as we can get.”

“We still got teams in front of us,” Finch said. “Our goal is to finish in the playoffs, not the play-in. That’s been the goal all season. We got to keep pushing.”

Chris Finch (via Star Tribune)

Finch and his Minnesota Timberwolves have their eyes set on the horizon that is painted beyond the play-in tournament. The Wolves want to earn a top-6 seed and guarantee they’ll play a full playoff series. But to do that, they’ll have to make up 2.5 games on (6-seed) Denver, 3.5 games on (5-seed) Dallas or 4 games on (4-seed) Utah.

Both the Nuggets and Mavericks won their games on Monday night and they’re just as hot as the Timberwolves. In their last ten games, Denver and Dallas have combined for a 17-3 record. After being crushed by the Mavs last night, the Jazz (who not that long ago had a comfortable spot saved in the final-16) must be feeling a bit vulnerable waking up this morning. Whichever of these teams flinch first, will likely end up in the play-in, given how well everyone around them is playing.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan