Jimmy Butler played for the first time since tearing his meniscus in February and the Timberwolves turned a a 7-point halftime deficit into a 17-point win, 113-96, over the Lakers in Los Angeles Friday night.
For Minnesota, it sets up some new clinching scenarios that will become even clearer after the Nuggets play the Clippers Saturday afternoon.
In the simplest form, the only way Minnesota doesn't make the playoffs is if they get passed by Denver. The Clippers can no longer pass the Wolves thanks to tiebreaker rules.
Denver, however, is just a half game behind the Wolves for the eighth and final playoff spot.
- Nuggets: at Clippers Saturday, vs. Blazers Monday, at Wolves Wednesday.
- Wolves: vs. Grizzlies Monday, vs. Nuggets Wednesday
Here are clinching/elimination scenarios for Minnesota:
- If Denver loses to the Clippers, they will be one game behind Minnesota with two games to go. That would set up a scenario Monday where the Wolves would clinch with a win over Memphis combined with a Nuggets loss to Portland.
- If Denver beats the Clippers and Portland, and Minnesota loses to Memphis, the Wolves could still clinch a playoff spot with a victory over Denver on Wednesday.
- If Denver beats the Clippers but loses to Portland, Minnesota can clinch with a win over Memphis. In this case, the season finale would be meaningless because the best Denver could do is tie Minnesota, and the Wolves would own the tiebreaker – best division record.
Head-to-head record wouldn't serve as the tiebreaker in this scenario, because they would be 2-2 against each other. That's why Denver's game Monday against Portland is critical. A win would push Denver's division record to 9-6. A loss would drop that record to 8-7. Minnesota has already finished 9-6 in the division.
If they have the same divisional record and finish tied, the next tiebreaker is conference winning percentage, which the Wolves would win.
Knowing all of this, your mind is probably spinning, so we're not even going to try to explain how the Wolves can still move all the way up to fourth in the Western Conference.