Given what transpired with the Minnesota Timberwolves in their final regular season finale, one might forget that they won the game.
During a timeout in the second quarter, Kyle Anderson and Rudy Gobert got into a heated exchange that ended with the latter throwing a punch at the former. Gobert was then sent home even before the game ended, with the organization condemning his actions.
Making matters worse, Jaden McDaniels punched a wall entering halftime and while it was done out of frustration, it pretty much put a frustrating end to what was a promising year for him.
Even with all that, the Wolves managed to rally from a 14-point deficit to take a 113-108 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans. Karl-Anthony Towns, who was out for the most of the year, teamed up with Anthony Edwards and Mike Conley to right the ship and keep their hold on the eighth seed in the Western Conference.
The win obviously breathes a sigh of relief onto Minnesota’s campaign since a win puts them quite close to the postseason. The Wolves, though, still would have to address some internal issues, which have obviously been bothering players within the organization. Gobert put out a statement and Anderson later clarified that they’re both grown men who’ll talk about it and move on, but this goes beyond the two of them. In reality, this has become the latest chapter in what could shape out to be another disappointing season for Minnesota.
The Wolves have never been short on talent, as Towns, Edwards, McDaniels, Gobert, and Conley lead a team that, on paper, can compete with the best in the NBA. Unfortunately, none of that promise has really materialized as they haven’t advanced past the first round of the playoffs in nearly two decades.
Injuries and some things beyond their control have been an influence, but the on court product doesn’t absolve Minnesota entirely. Naturally, the changes put forth by the Wolves front office was done to address the oncourt struggles, but clearly there still remains work to be done.
All things considered, Minnesota needs to grow up. They’re no longer the young team with an exciting future since that future is… pretty much now. Great teams understand the bigger picture and greater goal (and don’t treat the play-ins like championships), putting everything aside to pursue that goal. The Wolves have at times shown they are capable and doing it on a consistent basis will take them over their own proverbial hump.
The Play-In provides Minnesota an opportunity to prove as much, however, they would have to first get past the surging Los Angeles Lakers. A 128-117 win over the Utah Jazz allowed the Lakers to not only leapfrog the Wolves, but it also ended the regular season on a winning streak.
Los Angeles has its full lineup at its disposal, and with the likes of LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and D’Angelo Russell peaking, the Lakers are a dangerous team, something Minnesota witnessed firsthand a few weeks ago.
Incidentally, the Wolves and the Lakers were part of a 3-team trade where Los Angeles acquired Russell. Even the likes of Jarred Vanderbilt and Malik Beasley, who came to the Lakers via the Jazz, used to play for Minnesota. The Wolves and the aforementioned players have naturally moved on, but it’s quite poetic that they will play a crucial role in Minnesota’s postseason fate.
A loss certainly won’t doom the Wolves as they have another game against the winner between the Pelicans and the Oklahoma City Thunder for the last playoff spot. But then again, that’s looking too far ahead when all they would need to do is win over the Lakers.
Being in the Play-In Tournament means that the Minnesota Timberwolves still have a shot at entering the 2023 NBA Playoffs yet it’s obviously not a walk in the park. The tools to succeed have been there for them for quite some time and how they utilize will not only define their season, but also their identity as a franchise.