Most people wrote off the Minnesota Timberwolves for the rest of the 2016-17 season when promising shooting guard Zach LaVine was lost for the year. However, the Wolves have covered an NBA-high six straight games entering Wednesday and still have a playoff shot.
The Timberwolves were given a wins total of 40.5 on NBA odds at SBR's top sportsbooks before the season. If you bet the ‘over' on that, go ahead and consider your money lost. The Wolves enter the week at 25-37 and thus would have to win 16 of their final 20 games to top that total. That's not happening.
That's not to say the team can't make the playoffs because the bottom of the Western Conference is so weak. Denver currently holds the No. 8 spot but Minnesota, Portland, Sacrament, Dallas and New Orleans are all in the ballpark.
The Wolves are playing better right now than any of those teams. They have won six of 10 and have covered a league-high six consecutive games. It took a while, but Minnesota is finally playing good defense under first-year head coach Tom Thibodeau. He's a defensive guru and the Bulls were perennial contenders in the East under him because of great defense (and a healthy Derrick Rose – when he was).
In that six-game cover streak, Minnesota has allowed triple-digits just once: a 142-130 loss in Houston. The Wolves are 15-7 this season when allowing less than 100 points and 10-30 when allowing triple digits. You also might want to take this team on first-half lines most nights. Minnesota is third in the NBA the NBA in first-half field-goal accuracy (48.9 percent), fifth in offensive rating (110.9), sixth in net rating (+5.4) and eighth in three-point accuracy (38.1 percent). Minnesota is plus-2.4 in point differential in the first half of games and minus-2.6 in the second. It is 20-9 in games when leading or tied after three quarters and 5-28 when trailing after three.
Trio Has Stepped Up In LaVine's Absence
I gave the Timberwolves little shot of reaching the playoffs when rising star Zach LaVine tore his ACL in early February. He was averaging 18.9 points, 3.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game in 37.2 minutes per night. Other guys have stepped up their games since he was lost, though. Andrew Wiggins has really blown up. He's averaging 28.9 points in his past 10. Karl-Anthony Towns is playing like an MVP candidate in his past 10, averaging 27.4 points and 14.2 rebounds. He's working on a string of six straight games with at least 21 points and 14 rebounds.
The Wolves talked about dealing point guard Ricky Rubio ahead of last month's trade deadline but he has come on as well. Rubio had a triple-double of 11 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists in Saturday night's overtime loss in San Antonio. It was the Spaniard's first triple-double of the season but the 79th in the NBA, a league record. The previous mark of 78 was set in 1988-89. Magic Johnson led the NBA that year with 17. Rubio has 30 games this season of at least 10 assists. He's averaging 12.4 ppg and 10.2 apg in his last 15 starts, shooting 40.0 percent (18-for-45) from long range. The one knock on Rubio was always that he couldn't shoot.
This could be a pivotal week for the Timberwolves' playoff chances. They were to have three games to start the week at home: Portland on Monday, the L.A. Clippers on Wednesday and Golden State on Friday. Except the Portland game was postponed due to condensation on the court. The Wolves have lost nine straight at home vs. the Clippers.
On Saturday, Minnesota heads to Milwaukee and that starts a road-heavy ending to the season. The team has back-to-back home games just once after that. The Wolves are 13-16 ATS on NBA picks away from home.