The Minnesota Timberwolves picked up a big victory over the Denver Nuggets on Friday night.
Entering the final week, the Timberwolves are within striking distance of the sixth seed in the Western Conference. They also could jump as high as fifth as the Utah Jazz enter a tough schedule. Either scenario would help them avoid the play-in tournament, which could put Minnesota through a pair of must-win games to get into the playoffs.
If your head is spinning, you're not alone. But here's where the Wolves stand after Friday night.
5. Utah Jazz (46-31)
- Saturday at Golden State (48-29)
- Tuesday vs. Memphis (55-23)
- Wednesday vs. Oklahoma City (22-55)
- Apr. 8 vs. Phoenix (62-15)
- Apr. 10 at Portland (27-50)
The Timberwolves would need the Jazz to collapse in order to catch them for the fifth seed. On paper, there's a good chance that could happen. Utah will play three playoff teams in their final five games.
But Phoenix and Memphis are already locked into the first and second seeds. Golden State is trying to fight off Dallas for the third seed but the Warriors shut down Steph Curry due to a foot injury.
A win over Golden State on Saturday night would put Utah three games up on the Wolves with four to play. That would virtually cement a spot in the playoffs for the Jazz and leave Minnesota chasing Denver for the sixth seed.
6. Denver Nuggets (46-32)
- Sunday at LA Lakers (31-46)
- Tuesday vs. San Antonio (32-45)
- Thursday vs. Memphis (55-23)
- Apr. 10 vs. LA Lakers
Friday's win made things interesting for the Timberwolves. Had they lost, Denver could be cruising to the playoffs with a three-game lead. With the loss, the Nuggets at least have to break a sweat over the final four games.
The bad news is that Denver's schedule is soft. The Lakers are in a free-fall but scrapping to get into the play-in tournament. The Spurs are in the same situation but look like a cohesive team. Memphis could roll out its B-team, who defeated Phoenix on Friday night, in order to get healthy for the playoffs.
With a magic number of three to clinch a playoff spot, Denver will have to stumble to fall into the play-in tournament.
7. Minnesota Timberwolves (44-34)
- Sunday at Houston (20-58)
- Tuesday vs. Washington (34-43)
- Thursday vs. San Antonio (32-45)
- Apr. 10 vs. Chicago (45-32)
The Timberwolves should be favored in all four remaining games. But there are some trap games left on the schedule.
Minnesota lost to Washington on Dec. 1. Montrez Harrell was a big part of that loss and has since been traded to Charlotte. The Timberwolves also lost to Chicago on Feb. 11 and could run into a team trying to play their own way out of the play-in tournament.
If Jaden McDaniels returns from a sprained ankle, Minnesota should be able to take care of business. Although they'll need some help, a way out of the play-in tournament is possible.
Who could the Timberwolves face in the play-in tournament?
If the Timberwolves are unable to avoid the play-in tournament, they'll face the Los Angeles Clippers. Minnesota won the most recent meeting with the Clippers on Jan. 3 but it was their only win of the season against L.A.
Paul George played in the previous three games where the Clippers enjoyed an average victory of 19 points. George made his return from an elbow injury earlier this week and the Clippers seem intent on conserving their energy for a playoff run.
The good news is that the Timberwolves will host both games if they lose the 7 vs. 8 matchup. The bad news is that a variety of options exist for that second game.
The Timberwolves split their season series with the New Orleans Pelicans, who have won seven of their past 10 games. Minnesota has won the previous two meetings with the San Antonio Spurs including a 60-point outburst by Karl-Anthony Towns on March 14.
Then there are the Lakers, who the Wolves won three out of the four meetings against during the regular season. It's unlikely that the Lakers have forgotten the full-blown trolling they received on March 16, which would set up some must-see television in the play-in tournament.