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probably one of the three best teams in the conference and capable of beating anyone. For instance, in back-to-back games in early January, they drubbed the Cavaliers by 28 and beat the Thunder by 16. When the team is only going through the motions, they can look like one of the worst teams in the league (as evidenced by their losses to tanktastic outfits like Phoenix, Orlando and Memphis). Those sorts of swings in quality of play are characteristic of young teams, but after their influx of veteran leaders like Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, Jamal Crawford and Derrick Rose this season, the Wolves are no longer a young team. They should not be this volatile. I certainly do not remember the franchise’s last playoff team, in Kevin Garnett’s MVP 2003-04 season, failing to take care of business against the league’s bottom-feeders.
Despite their inconsistency and periodic struggles, the Wolves pulled together when they needed it most. Their three-game win streak to close out the regular season, which not-so-surprisingly coincided with Jimmy Butler’s return to the floor from a knee injury, showed this team can rally when their backs are against the wall. In Wednesday’s victory over Memphis, I saw quite a few things that reassured me the Wolves have a chance to be something more than sacrificial lambs for the top-seeded Houston Rockets in the first round of the playoffs.
The key to the Houston series is going to be Andrew Wiggins. In the most important game of his career last Wednesday against Denver, Wiggins was busting his you-know-what on defense, rebounding, moving the ball and accepting his role as a quaternary playmaker on offense. If he plays that way against Houston, he is going to be an absolute handful for a team that will be missing their best wing defender in Luc Mbah a Moute.
I have heard and read a lot of playoff previews that are questioning which Timberwolves are going to match up defensively against likely-MVP James Harden and Chris Paul. To me, that is not a tough question.
If Andrew Wiggins is engaged defensively, he and Jimmy Butler should draw those matchups, and they have a fair chance to limit the damage inflicted by those two all-stars. However, the question I think people should be asking is who from Houston is going to be guarding Butler and Wiggins? James Harden? P.J. Tucker? Tom Thibodeau is known as a defensive guru, but the truth is this Wolves team is successful because of their offense. They had the fourth most efficient offense in the league this season. If Chris Paul guards Jeff Teague as I expect he will, the Wolves are going to have a huge advantage on the wing. Likewise, who is going to guard Karl-Anthony Towns? Clint Capela? If so, then is Ryan Anderson going to be matched up against Taj Gibson in the post? The Wolves are going to get some easy buckets in this series.
Minnesota needs to focus on limiting Houston’s open looks from beyond the arc. The Wolves are going to put up points, but they cannot trade 2s for 3s. If they are truly locked-in on their defensive rotations and force Harden and Paul to force the issue with isolation offense and mid-range jumpers, I truly believe they have a chance in this series.
It took until the final night of the regular season for the Wolves to punch their ticket to the playoffs, but in doing so, they earned some valuable experience and showed they have what it takes to take their game up a level when their backs are against the wall. The Houston Rockets are a formidable opponent – they had the best regular season record in the entire NBA this season. However, Chris Paul and James Harden are not known for their playoff achievements. If the Wolves can steal one of the first two games in Houston before the series returns to a rocking Target Center next weekend, things are going to get very interesting. Because the Wolves have not made the postseason since Kevin Garnett’s MVP season, I’d like to reference one of my favorite iconic KG quotes to describe my thoughts heading into this playoff matchup: “Anything is possible.”
Timberwolves win hard-earned playoff berth
After 14 incredibly disappointing seasons, the Minnesota Timberwolves are finally back in the playoffs. It took a harrowing overtime victory over the Denver Nuggets to clinch the eighth and final seed in the western conference, but the Wolves came through and earned their spot in the postseason.
This season has been a roller coaster ride for the Wolves and their fans. When they are at their best, the Timberwolves are
By Andy Thayer