The Wolves still have playoff hopes, but they dwindle significantly with each loss. The two losses to the Knicks and then the Raptors were real backbreakers at the crucial part of the season.
Minnesota has hovered around .500 all year long and it seems highly likely that they'll finish with a 40-win season (for the first time since the 04-05 season), but ultimately out of the Western Conference playoffs.
As of Friday morning, the Wolves are 5.5 games behind the 7th & 8th seed Mavericks & Grizzlies and 3.5 games behind the 9th place Phoenix Suns. The Wolves will have to rattle off a lengthy winning streak and hope for mediocre play from two of those three teams. Unlikely and improbable, but not impossible.
The Wolves will take it one game at a time and that continues Friday night in Charlotte vs. Big Al and the Bobcats. Jefferson signed a big deal with the Cats this past summer and he has quickly become the foundation and centerpiece of a franchise that's had a lot more valleys than peaks in its decade-long existence.
Big Al is averaging 21.4 points & 10.3 rebounds in 34 minutes a night. Coupled with the play of Kemba Walker and under the direction of new head coach Steve Clifford, the Bobcats are likely on their way to the postseason for just the second time since they joined the league as an expansion franchise in 2004.
Charlotte currently sits at 31-34 on the year and in 7th place in the Eastern Conference. They're 2 games ahead of the 8th seed Hawks and 5.5 games ahead of the 9th place New York Knicks (who may actually make the playoffs, if the Hawks continue to plummet).
This Bobcats team features three former Minnesota 'Timberwolfs'. Obviously, Al Jefferson who was with Minnesota from 2007-10; Anthony Tolliver who was a Wolf from 2010-12; and Luke Ridnour who was with Minnesota from 2010-13. The Wolves traded Luke this past summer to the Bucks in order to free up cap space to sign Kevin Martin. Ridnour played 38 games with the Bucks before heading to the Bobcats on the Trade Deadline day (along withe Gary Neal) for another former Wolf (and Buck): Ramon Sessions.
This is the second of two meetings between these teams this season. The Wolves took the first meeting at the Target Center 119-92 on January 10th. Big Al got going early in that one with 8 first quarter points, but that was all he'd score vs. his former team. Nikola Pekovic on the other hand, went off for 26 and boosted the Wolves over a Bobcats team that (at the time) had lost 7 of 8. You can check out the full recap here: Pek's 26 Boosts TWolves to Blowout Win over Bobcats.
The Bobcats are playing better now, having won their last two outings, 4 of their last 5 and 7-straight at home. The Wolves come in having won 8 of their last 11, but only 1 of their last 3 meetings with Eastern Conference foes (all sporting inferior winning percentages--just like Charlotte).
The Wolves are seeking their first four-game road winning streak since the 2008-09 season. The Bobcats are going for their 8th-straight home victory, the last time they won 8-straight at home was during the 2009-10 season (which was the lone time the Bobcats made the playoffs).
The Wolves will be without Ronny Turiaf (knee) who is doing a few basketball related activities and is hoping to ramp that up a bit more in the following week to get back on the court and help the Wolves down the final stretch of the season. A.J. Price is still listed as 'out' with an appendectomy, it's uncertain if he'll be available to play, though because he doesn't actually ever play, I suppose it doesn't matter much.
The Bobcats will be without big man Brendan Haywood who may miss the entire season with a fractured foot and swingman Jeffrey Taylor who is out for the season with a ruptured achilles. Gary Neal missed the Bobcats' last game for because of a 'team issue', though he's expected to play on Friday. Neal is averaging nearly 12 points in 7 games since joining the Bobcats.
Tipoff is set for 6pmCST from the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, enjoy the game!