MINNEAPOLIS -- This should have been an electric week upcoming at Target Center.
A four-game stretch of Timberwolves home games starting with the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday, March 26, that also features the likes of Golden State, Philadelphia (and Jimmy Butler) and Portland swinging through Minneapolis during the stretch run of the season is the type of homestand fans dream about and likely circled on their calendar early in the season.
But circumstances have changed, and the buzz is nonexistent. A brutal past two months marred by injuries and losses have Minnesota officially eliminated from NBA playoff contention and reasons to watch dwindling.
“It definitely would’ve made it fun (still being in playoff contention). Would’ve made it much more interesting with the opponents we’ve got coming in with our schedule, things like that,” point guard Tyus Jones said. “But at the same time, we’re still approaching it to try to win every game. … We know they’re not going to take us easy, take us light, and we’ve got to be ready to play.”
Even those rooting for the Wolves to tank don’t have much hope. Minnesota is a game ahead (back?) of the Lakers, who own the league’s 10th-worst record, but a full three games back of New Orleans, who owns the ninth-worst mark.
And of the teams currently holding worse records than the Wolves, only Memphis has a record of .500 or better in its past 10 games (5-5). It’s hard to make up ground in the tanking business, even when you’re trying to lose. And Minnesota has made it clear it is trying to win games.
So what’s left to watch? Here’s a (brief) list of reasons to tune into the Wolves’ stretch run.
Wiggins at point
Andrew Wiggins has been running more point in the Wolves’ offense of late — particularly on pick-and-roll situations — with some mild success.
It’s not impacting his assist numbers, but Wiggins has eclipsed the 20-point mark in each of his past two games and the Wolves have outscored their opponents by 12 points when he’s on the floor.
Interim coach Ryan Saunders said that’s one thing the Wolves may want to try more of down the stretch.
“Whatever they want me to do, I’ll do,” Wiggins said. “I don’t mind it. I think it’s fun. It gives my team a different look. We’ve had some success the last couple of games with it.”
Whatever Saunders can do to get Wiggins going is a plus for the Wolves. Maybe there isn’t an answer to get the wing player to perform consistently at a high level, but it behooves the Wolves to try anything possible, particularly down the stretch run when wins simply don’t matter.
In particular, Wiggins enjoys running pick and rolls with Gorgui Dieng, a big he has played with for his entire pro career.
“He sets great screens — great screens,” Wiggins said. “And he gets me open.”
No longer shackled with playoff hopes, now is the time for Saunders to try whatever he wants with different lineups. If he does indeed keep the coaching job after this season, it’s smart for him to see at which positions — and with which other players — certain guys perform their best.
“We’ve thought about that, too,” Saunders said. “The roster, in terms of injuries, it does hinder some of those things in a big way.”
Still, there’s some room to experiment. Saunders said the Wolves may try rookie wing Keita Bates-Diop at different spots, seeing exactly what other positions on the floor he can guard, and noted maybe the Wolves will have Wiggins guard some stretch-forwards.
“We’ll try some things, but we’re competing,” Saunders said. “That’s our primary goal. That’s how you pick up good habits.”
Center Karl-Anthony Towns continues to be worth the price of admission this season.
In the past month, Towns is averaging 31.4 points, 14.7 rebounds and 3.8 assists. In that time, he is shooting 56 percent from the field and 50 percent from 3-point range. The Wolves may not have much in the way of healthy players, but they do have Towns, and that makes them a threat on any given night.