It’s suddenly a great time to be a Timberwolves fan. At 7-3, they’re tied for second in the Western Conference. Their record also matches their best start in 15 years — when Nickelback had the number one song on the charts.
Sunday’s victory over Charlotte gave the Timberwolves their first five-game winning streak since 2009, right around the time Kanye West interrupted Taylor Swift to declare that Beyonce had one of the best music videos of all-time.
The point being, it’s been a long time since Wolves fans have had reason to be optimistic.
Fans have been asked to believe in a lot since Kevin Garnett was traded to Boston. First, we wondered why Kurt Rambis wouldn’t try playing Al Jefferson and Kevin Love together. Then we asked if you could build a title contender around Love after Jefferson’s departure. Of course, there were all of the failed draft picks and botched trades in between.
This time, the 2017 Timberwolves seem to be the real deal. The team has improved game-after-game in the first 10 games. The blips in Detroit and against Indiana appear to be outliers from a team without its best player (Jimmy Butler).
Back-to-back home games over the weekend were a statement. Dallas came in on Saturday with one win on the season and the Wolves didn’t play down to them like a team entitled to a victory. Sunday’s win over Charlotte was more impressive. The Hornets are a respectable, well-coached team against which the Wolves recently struggled — and they ran the Hornets off of their floor. (Charlotte had previously won eight of the last 10 meetings between the teams going back to the Bobcat days.)
Home court advantage isn’t something the Timberwolves have often known. They were sub-.500 at Target Center last season and haven’t had a winning record at home since 2013-14. The Wolves are already 4-1 at home this season, which is one-fifth of the 20 they won a year ago. Convincing home wins are a signature of the league’s best teams. No one wants to play in Golden State, San Antonio, or Oklahoma City for this reason.
On Wednesday, the Wolves will head to Oracle Arena to face the Warriors while playing their best basketball of the season. The Warriors are a formidable opponent but the Wolves have played them inexplicably well over the last two seasons, earning one victory in each season.
According to The Athletic’s Britt Robson, the Timberwolves have had the 10th best defensive rating since their loss to the Pistons. While the defense is still coming together, the Timberwolves have respectable numbers against opponent 3-pointers– a must against the Warriors. They’re 11th in opponent 3-point makes, 15th in attempts against, and 12th in opponent 3-point percentage. Golden State is the most efficient 3-point shooting team in the league and if the Wolves can match their average to above-average 3-point defense, this could be another competitive matchup.
The Wolves now have the luxury of putting someone like Butler on sharpshooters Klay Thompson and Steph Curry while having Taj Gibson man the paint. They have not had these safety nets for Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins and are better suited than ever to matchup with the Warriors defensively.
Becoming more efficient from beyond the arc and having an improved bench only increase their chances. Jamal Crawford and Nemanja Bjelica have become a viable tandem, which is something else that has been absent.
A win is far from guaranteed but the chances of competing are higher than ever against Golden State.
It seems that the Wolves have learned from their poor play without Butler and gone on to play their best ball of the season. There’s no better time for this team to face the challenge of a road trip that will also feature stops in Phoenix and Utah. In years past, there may have been a sense of dread over a trip like this. There’s now an expectation that they take one or two out of three.
Why not? This Wolves team has already exorcised its demons in Oklahoma City, New Orleans, and Charlotte. No one expects them to win in Golden State but it doesn’t seem wise to write them off now.