It's incredibly rare for a Western Conference playoff team to have a really bad record. But that looks to be changing this season.
The Denver Nuggets and their subpar .419 winning percentage (18-25) are currently in line to reach the postseason as the No. 8 seed. The Timberwolves (16-28) are just 2.5 games back, with the Blazers (19-27), Pelicans (18-27) and (Kings (17-27) tucked between them.
If you extrapolate Denver's .419 win percentage to 82 games you get 34 wins.
One of these teams will probably get hot and win more than 34, but the season is already half over and 34 is the current expectation. So the reality is that winning 35 or so games could be good enough to end Minnesota's 12-year playoff drought.
Wolves are trending towards getting hot
We wrote about this a couple of weeks ago. The Wolves are playing better defense and their second-half collapses are slowly disappearing. They've allowed 99 points or fewer in eight of their last 14 games, although things have been a bit leaky in two of the last three – a loss to San Antonio and a win over Denver.
They're 10-10 in their last 20. Compare that to the last 20 games for the teams they're fighting for the eight seed with:
- Nuggets: 10-10
- Blazers: 7-13
- Pelicans: 10-10
- Kings: 8-12
The Mavericks, Suns and Lakers are all within 4.5 or fewer games of Denver, too, making the Wolves-Suns Tuesday meeting in the desert even more important.
Here's a tiered look at how many wins the Wolves will finish with based on winning specific percentages of their remaining 38 games.
- .600 = 22-23 more wins for a total of 38-39
- .500 = 19 more wins for a total of 35
- .475 = 18 more wins for a total of 34
Bottom line: If the season-long trends maintain, and 34-35 wins is enough to reach the playoffs, the Wolves have to play .500 ball the rest of the way just to have a shot at making the playoffs.
Now is the time to win with nine of the next 12 at home. Then it's a brutal stretch to finish the season with 17 of the final 26 games on the road.
Things don't look as optimistic if you extrapolate Minnesota's home and road splits. Based on those, they're are on pace to win 7-8 of their final 18 home games and just 5-6 of their 20 remaining road games. That's a grand total of 28-30 wins at season's end.
H/T to Aaron Black for the story idea.