Friday, April 13, 2012

Mr. Positivity: Wolves Optimism on "Playoff Elimination Day" *UPDATED 4/23*

Feeling down about the Timberwolves recent elimination from playoff contention? Maybe 2-4 isn’t the start you were hoping for from the Twins? Perhaps a 3-13 Vikings season is still adversely affecting your mood. Look no further than, as I plan to bring bi-weekly optimism to Minnesota sports fans.

The Minnesota Timberwolves lost 95-82 Thursday night to the Los Angeles Clippers. It was the eighth consecutive loss for the Wolves and their 23rd consecutive loss in April, dating back to the 2009 season. Kevin Love did not play due to concussion symptoms and will probably be shut down for the rest of the season. This caps an astonishing run of injuries for the Wolves this season, led by the loss of Ricky Rubio (Ligament Graveyard Inductee), who went down with an ACL tear while the team still had a winning record. Worst of all, the loss to “Lob City” officially marks the Timberwolves' inevitable elimination from playoff contention for the 2012 season.

There. Do you feel better yet?

There are many reasons to be down regarding these hilariously hapless hometown hoopsters (alliteration always makes me feel better). It’s good to get all of the negativity out first, and from there, we can build…

We may need a lot of alliteration.

Hope for this team begins with the same element that doomed their season in the first place. Injuries proved to be insurmountable for the Wolves this season, tainting any real opportunity to capture the 7th or 8th seed in the Western Conference. Before Rubio went down, this team proved they were ready to compete against the best teams on a nightly basis. Boasting a 21-19 record, they took down the Clippers three times, Houston three times, the Spurs twice, and the Mavericks twice. Nikola Pekovic proved he is an NBA-caliber center. Kevin Love became an MVP candidate. Ricky Rubio was a favorite for rookie of the year. Derrick Williams, Luke Ridnour, J.J. Barea, and others contributed to what is a young, promising team. Assuming this team can get healthy in time for next season, look out.

It also became very evident throughout the season that this Timberwolves squad was one decent shooting guard away from potential greatness, which is exactly why there is optimism heading into the playoff stretch.

Enter, stage left: The Utah Jazz.

The Jazz hold the key to the Wolves’ dire need at SG. If Utah makes the playoffs, the Wolves will receive their first round draft pick this summer. If the Jazz miss out on the playoffs, the Wolves go without a first round pick. It’s that simple. Time to grab your John Stockton throwback jersey and hop on the seven-game bandwagon.

If Utah were to sneak into the playoffs as a seven or eight seed, the Wolves would receive a pick in the middle of the first round. With this middle-teens pick, the Wolves would most likely target shooting guards like Doron Lamb from Kentucky, Austin Rivers from Duke, and Terrence Ross or Tony Wroten from Washington. Each of these players would provide instant depth, if not an instant starter, at the Timbas' weakest position.

So maybe you just hopped over to to check the Western Conference standings. If you did, you would see that Utah is 1.5 games out of the 7th/8th seeds, which are currently held by Houston and Denver (both 32-26).

Ready for more optimism?

While the remainder of Utah’s schedule (seven games) is pretty tough, both Houston and Denver have even tougher matchups, including two BIG games against each other. This is crucial because for those two games, Utah can sit back and watch as one of those teams is guaranteed to lose.

Here are the remaining schedules for Utah, Houston, and Denver:

@ New Orleans (16-42)
@ Memphis (34-24)
Vs. Dallas (33-26)
@ Portland (28-31)
Vs. Orlando (34-24)
Vs. Phoenix (30-28)
Vs. Portland (28-31)     

Vs. Phoenix (30-28)
@ Denver (32-26)
Vs. Denver (32-26)
@ Dallas (33-26)
@ New Orleans (16-42)
Vs. Golden State (22-36)
@ Miami (40-17)
Vs. New Orleans (16-42)          

@ Los Angeles Lakers (37-22)
Vs. Houston (32-26)
@ Houston (32-26)
Vs. Los Angeles Clippers (36-23)
@ Phoenix (30-28)
Vs. Orlando (34-24)
@ Oklahoma City (42-16)
@ Minnesota (25-35)        

All three of these teams have tough stretches to close out the season, with Denver facing the most difficult stretch, based on overall opponent records. Also, Utah holds the tie-breaker over Houston and Denver. Based on odds, and with a little luck (gulp), the Jazz could very well sneak into the final playoff spot in place of either Denver or Houston.

To top it off, there may be one final meaningful game for the Timberwolves this season. They face Denver at home in the final game of the season, which could be the difference between Utah getting in or not.

Don’t retire those K-Love jerseys yet, my friends. We have unfinished business.


******UPDATE 4/23/12******

Saturday was a big night, with several teams fighting for the final two Western Conference playoffs spots. Here is the rundown of what happened, and what it means as the final week of the regular season commences:

Saturday 4/21:

Denver beats Phoenix, 118-107
-Denver secures a playoff spot, leaving only one final spot for either Utah, Phoenix, or Houston.

Utah beats Orlando in OT, 117-107
-Utah is now one full game up on Phoenix for the final playoff spot.

Sunday 4/22:

Houston loses to Miami, 88-97
-Houston is officially eliminated from playoff contention, leaving only Utah and Phoenix.

Tuesday 4/24:

Phoenix @ Utah, 9:30 CST
-This is the big one. If Utah wins, they secure the eight seed, and the Minnesota Timberwolves get their draft pick in this summer's draft. If Utah loses, they would have to beat Portland (at home) on Thursday, AND have Phoenix lose to San Antonio Wednesday (at Phoenix) on Wednesday.

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