Imagine where the Wolves might be in the Western Conference standings if All-NBA defender Robert Covington didn't go down with a knee injury in late December.
Minnesota was 4-9 when they traded Jimmy Butler to the 76ers for Covington and Dario Saric, and they proceeded to win nine of the next 12 games. Then came a slump where the Wolves lost eight of the next dozen, taking a 17-20 record into 2019.
The Wolves haven't had Covington in the lineup since Dec. 31 because of a bruised knee, but good news dropped Wednesday with the team announcing that Covington has been assigned to the Iowa Wolves in the NBA G League where he'll prepare to return to the Wolves for the stretch run.
Overall, Minnesota is 12-10 with Covington in the lineup and 11-11 without him. It's not a significant difference, but one can't help but wonder if Covington's presence on the floor could've pushed the Wolves over the top in some of the close losses they've had in the past 22 games without him.
- Jan. 11: 119-115 home loss to Dallas
- Jan. 18: 116-113 home loss to San Antonio
- Jan. 25: 106-102 road loss to Utah
- Feb. 2: 107-106 home loss to Denver
- Feb. 5: 108-106 road loss to Memphis
Advanced stats aren't necessary to argue that Covington being active in those games would've helped slow down Luka Doncic in the Dallas loss, or helped keep Rudy Gay from going off in the Spurs loss.
And Covington is definitely worth a point or two that could've easily flipped the outcome against Denver and Memphis.
Let's get hypothetical and pretend Covington played in those five games and Minnesota won three of them. If that were the case, they'd be 32-28 rather than 29-31.
Their current record, however, has them tied with the Lakers for 10th in the West, three games out of a playoff spot. If they were 32-28 they'd be in control of the final playoff spot and within striking distance of the Clippers (34-28), Jazz (33-26) and Rockets (35-25).
But reality is that the Wolves are 29-31, and they do have the second-most difficult remaining schedule in the Western Conference.
Hard truth: 15 of their final 22 games are against teams currently positioned to make the playoffs, and that doesn't bode well for Minnesota.
Perhaps they'll surprise the league and go on a run, but they have a steep hill to climb, even with Covington returning to the lineup in the near future.