Believe it or not, the Minnesota Timberwolves have a strong chance of winning a title this season.
You might not think of them as legit contenders, but that’s before you read this break down of what their chances are really like this season. Within their own conference, the Timberwolves currently have the fourth spot in the Western Conference standings. This, of course, is behind the the juggernauts in Golden State, Houston, and San Antonio.
By staying in the middle of the pack, Minnesota keeps it’s chances more alive than ever of winning a title. They’re the dark horse that nobody likes to admit is in the running, and that’s largely because we’re so used to the usual suspects. On top of that, the major storyline of Kyrie Irving leaving LeBron James and the Cavaliers for Boston was just too good of a story to not want to follow.
Meanwhile, Minnesota has shown it can handle business whether people are watching or not.
With their most recent blockbuster trade that sent players to Chicago in return for Jimmy Butler, we should’ve known that they were just getting started. They still had faith that Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins would live up to their potential and possibly break through their respective ceilings, but the title hunt became real when Butler donned his new jersey.
If the season were to end today, Minnesota would be faced with a first round opponent in Oklahoma City. The Timberwolves would hold home advantage in the best-of-seven clash, and based on what we’ve seen so far from the Thunder, it’s unclear which team would really show up when the pressure is on. It’s one thing to have chemistry issues and doubts about growth in the regular season, especially with two superstars joining the reigning MVP in Russell Westbrook.
But for Minnesota, adding a star gave them the right chemistry boost without the overkill, and that’s where they’ll be able to show us that they can execute.
Head-to-head, the T-Wolves are 3-1 against the Thunder this season, with all but one of the games being decided by four points or less. It would be close on the scoreboard, but the Thunder won’t be able to deliver on the promise of a big three if they don’t climb higher than fifth in the standings.
Let’s assume that series ends with Minnesota advancing. This means that they’ll play the winner of the top seed versus the eighth seed, which right now would be Golden State versus Portland. The Warriors have handled business against the Trail Blazers before, and it wouldn’t be surprising at all for them to really hit the throttle in that match up and finish in five games at the most.
At this point, we’ve now got a Warriors versus Timberwolves clash for a chance at the Western Conference Finals. You might immediately think to how unguardable Stephen Curry is or how much of an x-factor Kevin Durant can be, but you’re leaving out the one area that Minnesota would destroy Golden State at — the big man.
This is the shining moment for Karl-Anthony Towns to show us whether he’s the real deal or not. If he can find a way to be the game changer we know he can be, the Wolves put up a good fight everywhere else with the exception of point guard, really.
The first time the two teams met this regular season was back in the first week of November, but they’ve never met in the post-season. Golden State won convincingly by 24 points, but again, the T-Wolves present an unfamiliar foe that the Warriors just aren’t ready for.
What’s great about Minnesota in this potential series as well is the fact that they can have a different game changer every night, whereas the Warriors are really dependent on Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant to make a difference on the offensive end. And it doesn’t help when Klay Thompson still has to play third wheel to those guys in clutch moments.
That being said, we have to stop thinking that the Warriors are unbeatable. Even at where they stand right now, Minnesota presents the best chance at taking down the defending champs.
I would take the Wolves winning this series in seven, with the final installment representing that moment a lot of fans have hoped for but haven’t gotten for quite sometime — Curry and company facing an early exit and end to their season.
From there, the only four other options that could play Minnesota for a shot at the NBA Finals is San Antonio, Houston, New Orleans, or the LA Clippers. There’s no way that LA would get past Houston in the first round, so that’s a quick scratch, but there is a valid argument for New Orleans eliminating San Antonio.
The Spurs have no idea when Kawhi Leonard will return now, and it’s not like they’ve really got a dangerous team, per say, without him. If you took coaching out of the equation, I don’t think it’d even be that close of a series to be honest, but Gregg Popovich deserves that much credit that he could stand a chance at making this a series.
Either way, Minnesota is better than both of them, with the real challenge being the Houston Rockets.
But the best part? The conference finals would be new territory for Chris Paul, and we’ve seen just how bad Houston can be without him either in the lineup or performing poorly. If Jimmy Butler can win the head to head against Harden most of the time, then it’s an easy choice with Minnesota.
This series would go six games, with the Rockets showing fight late, but a little too late to make a difference.
Now in the NBA Finals, I don’t see any team from the Eastern Conference carrying the kind of swagger, composure, and confidence that Minnesota will have at that point. Even if it’s a LeBron James-led Cavaliers team, that’s actually probably the opponent that they’d prefer.
Cleveland hasn’t gotten what it needs from Isaiah Thomas, and Dwayne Wade hasn’t played in an NBA Finals with LeBron James in too long for things to really swing in favor of the Cavs. You could also look at Toronto and Boston as teams worthy of an argument, but are you really going to pick DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry over a young Wolves team that has confidence through the roof?
Boston would be an amazing match up, and if it had to be a new face from the Eastern Conference, a Kyrie Irving-led Celtics squad is definitely at the top of my list. This would be a seven game series, with the deciding factor again being the play of Towns and whether or not he’d be able to play better — and be more consistent in the closing moments — than Al Horford.
Like their approach to beating Golden State, if they can trust Towns with the rock at any point in the game, the Celtics won’t have an edge, even with Brad Stevens running the bench.
Lastly, while the Wolves would have real confidence from their previous playoff wins, all the Celtics would have to their name is that they won the worst conference in basketball and did it when the Raptors weren’t much to mess with in the playoffs and the Cavaliers were in self-destruct mode from the All-Star break.
And then when they play Minnesota, they’ll hit a brick wall.
I can’t stress enough how much of a key Karl-Anthony Towns will be in this push, and the fact that he was snubbed from this year’s All-Star festivities will only serve as motivation.