A loss in Toronto Thursday coupled with a Denver victory at Indiana wouldn't kill Minnesota's chance to catch the Nuggets for the No. 6 seed in the playoff race, but it definitely won't help as the end of the regular season nears.
The top six seeds are guaranteed a best-of-seven postseason series, while teams that finish 7-10 head for the play-in tournament. Entering Thursday's slate of games, Minnesota is seventh in the West, two games behind Denver.
The ideal scenario for Minnesota is winning at Toronto while Denver loses at Indiana. That would put the Timberwolves just one game back entering Friday's showdown between Minnesota and the Nuggets in Denver.
Unfortunately, Denver is good and the Pacers are terrible, so the most realistic scenario entering Friday's showdown between the Wolves and Nuggets is Denver holding a two- or three-game lead. But nothing is certain until the final horns blow tonight.
The Timberwolves own the tiebreaker over Denver, so the No. 6 is theirs so long as they can keep up with the Nuggets. And the No. 5 seed can't be ruled out just yet because Utah (just two games ahead of Minnesota) has lost five straight and still has the Lakers, Warriors, Grizzlies and Suns on their schedule.
After tonight in Toronto and Friday in Denver, Minnesota closes its schedule with four very winnable games against the Rockets, Wizards, Spurs and Bulls, the final three at home in Minneapolis.
If the play-in tournament started today...
Minnesota (7) would play the Clippers (8), with the winner advancing as the official No. 7 seed to face the No. 2 seed in a best-of-seven series. The loser of Wolves-Clippers would play the winner of the other play-in, which will likely feature some combination of the Pelicans, Spurs and Lakers.
So if the Wolves lost to the Clippers — who oh by the way just got Paul George back from injury — they would have to beat the winner of the 9-10 play-in matchup for the right to the official No. 8 seed, which comes with the gift of facing the No. 1 Phoenix Suns in a best-of-seven series.
The winner of the 7-8 matchup in the play-in tournament would earn the No. 7 official seed in the playoffs and face the No. 2 seed in a best-of-seven series. The loser of the 7-8 play-in game would take on the winner of the 9-10 game (Pelicans, Spurs or Lakers) for the right to enter the official playoff tournament as the No. 8 seed.
One way or another, if the Wolves guarantee themselves a spot with a top six seed or make it in via the play-in tournament, they'll wind up in a best-of-seven series against the Suns, Grizzlies, Warriors or Mavericks.
Easy assumptions right now are that the ...
- No. 8 seed will face the No. 1 Suns.
- No. 7 seed will face the No. 2 Grizzlies.
- No. 6 seed will face the Warriors or Mavericks.
- No. 5 seed will face the Warriors or Mavericks.