Finally, the Minnesota Timberwolves had an opportunity to catch their collective breaths over the past three days. Nearing the end of a long, yet compact NBA regular season, Minnesota found itself with three consecutive off days in the schedule.
That allowed Minnesota to practice — a foreign concept this season — not once, but twice ahead of Wednesday’s tilt with Memphis.
“It was great. (Monday), we got up and down, we scrimmaged a lot,” Timberwolves head coach Chris Finch said. “(Tuesday) was a little bit more of a breakdown day. I think the guys are excited to get back to work on the floor, though.”
Now the Wolves head into the final stretch of the campaign — seven games in 12 days. And while their postseason fate was sealed long ago, there is still much to discover about Minnesota between now and the end of the regular season.
Are the Wolves good?
Wild question to ask about a 20-45 team, to be sure. But the Timberwolves have won five of their last seven, and are quick to remind you how close they are to being winners of seven straight. The losses mounted during this injury-plagued season, but with the roster nearly at full strength, the Timberwolves have experienced a revival of sorts, blowing straight past competent and into the competitive realm.
But even bad teams have good runs during the season. Sacramento won nine of 10 at one point in this campaign. Yes, the Timberwolves swept the Donovan Mitchell-less Jazz, but wins over Golden State, Houston and Sacramento don’t cement Minnesota’s stature as a playoff contender heading into next season.
But this final stretch features games against Memphis, Miami — whom these Wolves recently beat — Denver, Boston and Dallas. Win even two of those games, and the team’s direction will be further validated.
Minnesota has found a winning formula, it seems, with D’Angelo Russell spearheading the otherwise defensive-minded second unit and Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards leading the starters.
But the supposed plan for this team is to be led by a “Big 3” of Russell, Towns and Edwards. Will those three work together? Thus far, not really. Since Russell returned, that 3-man lineup has been outscored by 9.3 points per 100 possessions — making it one of Minnesota’s worst 3-man lineups in that span.
They’ve also only played 164 minutes together. That number should expand quite a bit down the stretch so Minnesota can evaluate a larger sample size. Finch has said he’d like to get those three on the court together more.
DLO off ball?
The two-point guard looks haven’t proven overly successful for Minnesota yet this season, but Finch has gone back to the well since Russell returned to action. Upon his return from knee surgery, Russell has played 264 of his 394 minutes next to either Jordan McLaughlin or Ricky Rubio.
Russell has proven to rather adept playing off the ball offensively, cutting and spotting up for good looks from deep. It’s a worthwhile experiment, especially considering Minnesota may be in position to draft a certain point guard from St. Paul this summer should it land a top-3 pick in the NBA Draft.
The Timberwolves’ defensive rating over these last seven games is 12th in the NBA. That’s a number Minnesota can work with.
Now, its inability to get stops at the end of games is also why it blew fourth-quarter double-digit leads to Sacramento and New Orleans, but there isn’t much reason to harp on that. The Wolves won’t be a finished product defensively by the end of this season. But if they can maintain their current level of play on that end of the floor over the final seven games, that would go a long way toward proving this team — with its current personnel — can defend well enough to win at a relatively high rate — a major question about this group up until now.
Anthony Edwards was named the Western Conference Rookie of the Month for the second straight month on Tuesday. Edwards averaged 21.6 points, 5.1 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.6 steals in the month of April.