In Minnesota's final 32 games, they play Western Conference opponents 21 times and Eastern Conference opponents 11 times. Of those 11 Eastern Conference opponents, four of those opponents are over .500 as of 2/7 (Atlanta .521; Toronto .531; Miami .729; Indiana .796). So, let's assume in those other 7 games, we can beat the sub-.500 teams (it's not probable considering there are teams that are better than their record or are playing better now: Brooklyn, Chicago, New York, etc). However, for sake of argument, let's assume we would beat the teams below .500. Chances are good the Wolves could beat either Atlanta or Toronto (or both) so they could conceivably finish with 8-9 wins in their remaining 11 games vs. the East (highly doubt we beat Indy or Miami). We'll call it 8, with us beating Atlanta.
In the Western Conference we face Dallas, Golden State, L.A. Clippers, L.A. Lakers & San Antonio each once. I'd say we'll beat Dallas & the Lakers and steal one of the games between GSW, SAS & LAC. That's another 3 wins.
We play Denver, Memphis, Phoenix, Portland & Utah two more times each. We beat Utah both times and let's say we split the remaining games between the other three opponents (we've lost to Denver twice already, Phoenix once and we're 1-1 in the other two matchups: POR & MEM). That's another 6 wins.
Then, we play both Houston & Sacramento three more times. For the Wolves to make the playoffs and hit 22 wins, we'd need to go 5-1 vs. these teams (in this scenario).
We can argue back and forth that the Wolves could beat teams like Memphis, Phoenix & Denver in their remaining games and so on...but this (in my opinion) is a fairly accurate representation of what this team could accomplish in these final two months.
Ultimately it's going to come down to beating the teams they've got to beat. Of Minnesota's 32 final games, 19 of them will be vs. teams currently .500 or better.
There's a lot of things you can't point to for what seems to be another "lost season". The most popular choice right now is Rick Adelman. I can't say I agree 100%, but I certainly don't disagree. His rotations simply baffle me. I can't understand the infatuation with Barea, or not playing Mbah a Moute more or sitting Alexey Shved these past few weeks after he was probably Minnesota's best reserve in the month of January or even playing Chase Budinger, who has struggled to find his shot, so many minutes (I understand you want to get him playing time so he can build his confidence back up, but he's looked B-A-D since he returned and there are other options on the bench).
Speaking further on rotations, I've don't think I've ever seen a head coach so resistant to change. Why doesn't Adelman try different starting lineups and different rotations? He's got 15 players on the roster and yet (barring injury) we see the same 9-10 guys every night.
I don't think Adelman is even 20% to blame for this season though. It comes down to the players. These guys just seemed scared to win and scared to succeed. The worst thing about it all is the inconsistencies. One night we'll blow out the Sixers by 20 and the next night we blow a 12-point lead and let the Pelicans (playing without Holiday, Anderson & Smith) come back in the fourth for the W.
Yes, the team misses Pek. Yes, they are a better team with him. Yes, tonight's squad is better than New Orleans' and we should have beat them by 20. Too many times this season we've talked about "if the Wolves don't turn things around quickly they'll find themselves out of the playoffs once again". Tonight is no different...but the next time we let a team like the Bobcats or Bucks or Jazz beat us...it could very well spell the end to Minnesota's playoff aspirations.
Here's a few notes on tonight's game...
- Tonight was the first game in the newly branded Smoothie King Center in New Orleans.
- The Pelicans entered tonight's game having won 5 of their last 7 outings, after winning just 5 of their previous 20 games!
- Kevin Love (neck) & Corey Brewer (personal) both returned after missing Wednesday's game in Oklahoma City. Nikola Pekovic (ankle) continues to sit and it's sounding more and more like he'll be out until after the All-Star break.
- This was Kevin Martin's 600th NBA career game.
- Prior to tonight's game, Anthony Davis was named the injury replacement for Kobe Bryant for the Western Conference All-Star team.
- The first quarter saw the lead change hands 11 times and had 6 ties. The Pelicans had the biggest lead of the first quarter with 5, but the Wolves led 26-25 after one. Davis scored 12 points in the opening quarter.
- Love took some time to loosen up and also had to sit with 2 early fouls. He got things going in the second quarter where he scored 8 of his 10 first half points--also adding 8 rebounds at halftime.
- The game was tied at 32 with 5:37 to play. The Wolves went on a 15-10 run to take a five point lead at halftime 47-42. The Wolves shot 44% from the field in the first half, the Pelicans: 42%. Davis added another 5 points to give him 17 points through two quarters.
- Davis shot 8-11 from the field in the first half which is just under 73%. The rest of the Pelicans shot 11-34: 32%!
- The Wolves allowed a lot of easy buckets at the rim early in the third quarter, but the clamped down a bit as the quarter went on and outscored the Pelicans 24-19 in the third to take a 10-point lead after three quarters.
- Love grabbed 8 rebounds in the third quarter to give him 16 rebounds & 19 points for his NBA-leading 42nd double-double of the year.
- Love was knocked to the floor a few more times tonight on some hard fouls, but he battled through the pain and stayed on the floor. The Wolves play again tomorrow...
- Eric Gordon had a very good third quarter where he scored 7 points after scored just 4 in the first half.
- Adelman started the final quarter with Barea, Budinger, Brewer, Mbah a Moute & Cunningham. The Pelicans promptly went on a 12-4 run to cut the lead to 2 points (75-73) with 8:43 to play.
- About a minute and a half later the Pelicans took a one-point, 77-78 lead. They took that lead with 7:09 to play on an Eric Gordon (uncontested) dunk and from that point on Minnesota didn't retake the lead (or even tie the game) again. The Pelicans went up by three on a pair of Davis free throws on their next offensive possession. The closest the Wolves got after that point was within three points (on multiple occasions).
- The Timberwolves began the game 3-for-4 from deep, but went 1-for-14 the rest of the way, including 1-for-7 in the fourth quarter!
- To the left is Minnesota's fourth quarter team shot chart.
The bench regressed once again after having a couple nice outings. Their play early in the fourth quarter got the Pelicans rolling and even when Adelman went back to his starters, the Wolves just couldn't get back over the hump. All five reserves finished with negative +/-.
Kevin Love finished with 26 points & 19 rebounds and went 14-for-17 at the line, but shot just 30% from the field. I attribute some of that to his injury-riddled body and another good portion to some questionable officiating. By my count, Anthony Davis & Luke Babbitt each should've fouled out of this game twice! They got away with a lot of fouls in the paint and that turned out to be one of the difference makers--with the Wolves not getting the foul calls down low, they turned to the long ball down the stretch and their 1-for-7 3PT in the fourth is a pretty clear indication of how that turned out.
With tonight's loss the Wolves are two games below .500 24-26 and 5.5 games behind the Mavericks for that 8th seed in the West. Up next? The 35-15 Portland Trailblazers in Minnesota tomorrow night for Minnesota's 4th game in 5 nights.