Five wins in the last seven games have the Minnesota Timberwolves feeling pretty good about themselves. A Western Conference clogged up with worthy playoff teams, however, keeps them on the outside looking in. The issue of close games has been well-documented as has the positive point differential, optimistically indicative of future success. Pythagorean wins, though, only provide a small amount of comfort compared to the solace found in actual victory, so when a team on the bubble strings together a few good results it’s easy to go overboard with belief before the Memphis Grizzlies remind you what you really are.
The previous week’s double-header against the mildly resurgent Utah Jazz was surprisingly only in that everything seemed to go to plan. It obviously was no cause for celebration but even the slightest glimmer of consistency is enough to get my attention. A loss to one of the league’s worst could have spiralled into something sinister at a fragile point in the Timberwolves’ season.
The games of the past week continued as follows:
Win 121-120 @ Golden State Warriors
A close game victory on the road to a potential contender stands out as one of the best results of the season so far. A win determined, probably, by the miracle of the Timberwolves’ 3-point shooting matching that of the Warriors despite the best efforts of Stephen Curry to ruin everything.
Loss 115-104 @ Portland Trail Blazers
A natural comedown loss after a big road win on the second night of a back-to-back is typical for even a contending team; only the hot hand of Kevin Martin kept this from becoming a blowout.
Win 95-86 @ Chicago Bulls
The shorthanded nature of Chicago’s roster is common knowledge to any fan who’s been following the NBA at all, but it doesn’t really hit home until you have to watch 39 minutes of D.J. Augustin running the point (and not doing badly, either). With Luol Deng traded and the Joakim Noah illness/Derrick Rose injury, it’s a miracle Chicago hasn’t descended into impoverished basketball squalor but still somehow the team remains competitive. The win may have been comfortable, but the discomfort of watching an eight-man rotation containing Mike James and Nazr Mohammed make the Wolves work alleviated any good feeling. Nikola Pekovic left after only six minutes, though with Nazr Mohammed proving to be the 36-year-old man he is, it proved not to be crucial.
Win 88-77 New Orleans Pelicans
With no Anthony Davis and no Jrue Holiday, this had to be the ugliest victory of the year. I was looking forward to the prospect of seeing the adjustment to Pekovic’s absence (out for seven to 10 days) with Ronny Turiaf starting and hopefully extra minutes for Gorgui Dieng. The opportunity to enjoy effort triumphing over talent was definitely ripe. Though to my great dismay, the possibility of excitement was thwarted by the Pelicans frontcourt rotation of Greg Stiemsma, Alexis Ajinca and Jeff Withey. Most fans love watching a hopeless, 7-foot white man wander round a court but i’ve no idea how New Orleans managed to play all three and still evade a match-fixing scandal.
By recapping the victories it allows us to stand back and look at what was achieved in the past week. There was not an obvious improvement in performance except for the Golden State game, instead the wins arrived through good fortune in the shape of injuries and scheduling.
This sounds more pessimistic than I am. The Wolves played this entire season so far like a good, competent team and more often than not they’ve found themselves on the wrong side of a coin flip. This past week has been refreshing not just for the wins, but for the actualisation luck going and coming around again.
True to life’s nature, the week closed with a reminder that fortune only lasts for so long. Friday night’s spirited yet failed comeback against the Grizzlies echoed the sounds heard throughout the season so far. A poor shooting performance created an early deficit and the resulting fightback allowed us all to believe again. Needless to say, we were brought to the brink again only to fall backwards in the games final moments. It was a fair performance but not good enough to defeat a competing Memphis team who are gaining steam in the playoff race. So as the week closes we end up where we started: frustrated, clueless and confused.