Playoff basketball is back

For the first time in 14 years, the Minnesota Timberwolves are playoff bound.

Now I know what you’re thinking, “So what? They’ll get killed by Houston in the first round anyway.” I know. I accept that and am fine with that. I’m just excited that playoff basketball is back in Minnesota and the young members of the team will see the postseason.

I’m not saying this year was an overwhelming success, because it wasn’t. The team’s over/under entering the season was 47.5. With the offseason additions headlined by Jimmy Butler combined with the young talent, I would have felt confident betting the over. I would have lost that money. After Wednesday’s overtime win against Denver in the final game of the season, Minnesota finished at 47-35.

Some of the team’s bad losses this year were to Memphis, Brooklyn, Chicago and twice to Phoenix, the worst team in the NBA in terms of record. Let’s assume Minnesota still would have dropped a couple of those games, but their record would be 50-32 had they prevailed against the tank.

If the Wolves would’ve taken care of business against the NBA’s lottery locks, they’d be a three seed with a first round matchup against the Pelicans.

Regardless of where they finished in the standings, I think a playoff appearance for guys like Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns is valuable, and will give them a taste of what success feels like. There is a decent chance this series goes no more than five games, but I’m OK with that.

Sure, since the Wolves made the playoffs they lost their first round draft pick to Atlanta in a seemingly deep draft, but I am also OK with that.

Takeaways from Wednesday’s win

Shout out to Taj Gibson. He played phenomenal defense down the stretch for the Wolves including a huge steal from the red-hot Nikola Jokic in the final seconds of regulation. This play was huge; it was during a Nuggets possession in which I was certain they were going to sink the Wolves.

My second shout out goes to the two guys who needed to come up huge for the Wolves and did not disappoint: Butler and Towns.

Butler, in just his third game back from a torn meniscus, led the way for the Wolves with 31 points, five rebounds and five assists. Obviously his scoring, playmaking and defense were huge for the team, but beyond that is how he stepped up as Minnesota’s leader. There is a different vibe and level of intensity when Butler is on the floor. He made his presence felt in the regular season finale, as he has done so often this year.

Towns did Towns things, and finished with 26 points and 14 rebounds on 12-of-19 shooting. He was a monster in the paint and played with a tenacity Wolves fans have been dying to see from him. He seemed to take offense to Jokic catching fire; he had a visible desire to be the best player on the floor with every rebound and every bucket.

Shout out No. 3 goes to the bench squad, which played well in a limited amount of time.

Nemanja Bjelica missed on all four of his shot attempts and was held scoreless, but came up with three steals in 11 minutes and finished with a plus-minus of +7.

Tyus Jones saw the floor for just 10 minutes, but connected on his only field goal attempt (a three-pointer). He facilitated nicely during those 10 minutes, dishing out three assists and also finishing at +7.

Derrick Rose and Jamal Crawford didn’t provide much offense off the bench, combining for four points on 1-of-9 from the field, but they didn’t hinder the team, as Rose was +7 and Crawford was a game-high +13.

Gorgui Dieng played only six minutes; however, he looked more confident than he has in weeks. He connected on two of his five shot attempts and grabbed three rebounds, but he seemed comfortable on the floor, which hasn’t been the case for much of the last few weeks.

My final shout out is for Andrew Wiggins. It’s been a down year for Wiggins; his 17.7 points per game was the lowest since his rookie season (16.9), and he averaged career-lows in free throw attempts (3.8) and free throw percentage (64.3).

Wiggins struggled for the Wolves down the stretch, scoring 20 points only once in the final 10 games of the season, but he did exactly what he had to do on Wednesday night. He scored an efficient 18 points on 5-of-9 from the field, including 3-of-5 from beyond the arc.

Most importantly, Wiggins hit two clutch free throws in overtime to put Minnesota up by four points and clinch the victory.

Playoff predictions

No. 1 seed Houston is really good at basketball and has torched the Wolves, going 4-0 with a 15.75 average margin of victory in their matchups.

Defense has been the biggest disappointment thus far in the Tom Thibodeau era and the Wolves’ lackluster defense has struggled mightily against the Rockets’ lethal offense.

Houston will be without one of its best defenders, Luc Mbah a Moute, as he dislocated his shoulder while throwing down a dunk in a meaningless game Tuesday night. This is a big blow for the Rockets, as the veteran forward has the best defensive rating (101.2) of any Houston player to appear in more than 60 games.

Unless Chris Paul and James Harden disappear, this series shouldn’t go more than five games. Houston is too good on both ends of the floor. It is possible that things can click for the Wolves, and Towns and Butler can carry the team into making this a competitive series, but certainly not likely.

Nonetheless, postseason experience is beneficial and playoff basketball is back in Minnesota.

Author: thrillswithjmills

Food lover located in Fargo, N.D. Chicken strip aficionado; blogger; aspiring TikTok superstar.

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