There are two sides to every conversation about the Timberwolves’ current standing. First, there’s the record: Minnesota entered Thursday’s contest against Toronto at a disappointing two games below .500.
Then there’s the glass-half-full view, which shows Minnesota is still in contention for home-court advantage in a potential first-round Western Conference playoff series.
That’s a product of a bunched-up West field in which no one outside of Denver and Memphis has separated themselves from the pack.
Minnesota, which entered Thursday’s play in a tie for 10th place in the conference with a 22-24 record, was only 4½ games back from the No. 3 seed. The middle of the Western Conference resembles a rock fight, with the teams in the Nos. 5 through 12 spots all residing within three games of .500.
The sports data website FiveThirtyEight doesn’t project that changing by season’s end. The site currently forecasts the No. 4 seed in the West to finish the regular season with just 44 wins. That team is currently projected to be Dallas, but if 44 wins is indeed the number required to gain home-court advantage, it’s a win total still very much in play for every team in the West not named San Antonio or Houston.
For the record, FiveThirtyEight currently projects Minnesota to finish with 39 victories.
The Lakers, for example, sitting at 20-25, would need to finish the year 24-13 to get to 44 wins. It’s rare that at any point past the midway juncture of the season, 13 teams could still hold hopes for finishing in the top four of their respective conference. But that’s the reality for Western Conference teams this season.
That makes the three weeks between now and the Feb. 9 trade deadline all the more intriguing, as so many teams could “go for it” by making a splash move in an effort to push themselves up the standings. It also means any team is just one good stretch away from setting itself up for postseason success or, just as likely, one bad stretch that eliminates itself from playoff contention.
Minnesota may be active on the market, but the Wolves are also likely hoping the eventual return of Karl-Anthony Towns and Jordan McLaughlin could spur a stretch of good basketball that would make many of their preseason goals again a reality.
Because as bad as the Wolves, and many other Western Conference teams, have been thus far this season, everything is somehow still in front of them.
The league’s last 2-minute report from Minnesota’s loss to Denver revealed no missed calls at the end of the game.
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