The Timberwolves stayed pat on trade deadline day, choosing to keep Ricky Rubio for the remainder of the season as they push to end Minnesota's 12-year playoff drought.
Entering Friday's game against Dallas, the Wolves are three games behind Denver for the eighth seed with 25 games to go. To catch Denver, the Wolves also have to pass Dallas, New Orleans, Portland and Sacramento. Minnesota can jump Dallas and New Orleans with a win Friday, and if the horrible Brooklyn Nets can somehow beat Denver, the Wolves could go to bed just two games back.
That's when reality sets in.
Only Sacramento has a harder remaining schedule than the Wolves, among the teams listed above, according to PlayoffStatus.com, and Denver has the easiest remaining schedule. In addition, 16 of Minnesota's final 24 games are on the road. With a current road winning percentage of .320, it's not promising.
But maybe we're not seeing it clearly.
Denver's schedule is easier on paper, but like Minnesota, they finish with a flurry of road games – 8 of their final 12 to be exact.
For some reason, I guess people expected a championship. – DeMarcus Cousins
New Orleans, despite acquiring All-Star DeMarcus Cousins, might not be as big and bad as a lot of fans expect. Consider the fact they were blown out by Houston in Cousins' debut Thursday night. Even Cousins admits there will be growing pains.
"For some reason, I guess people expected a championship," Cousins told The Vertical Thursday night. "I know the reality of it. We’ve had one practice and a shootaround. This isn’t something that is just going to happen overnight. Do we look good on paper? Yes. But being good on paper doesn’t win games."
If Minnesota jumps Dallas and New Orleans Friday night, next on the list are the 10th and ninth-place teams, Portland and Sacramento, whom most experts believe are bowing out of playoff contention after selling key players – Mason Plumlee and Cousins – before the trade deadline.
So in a magical world, if Portland, Dallas and Sacramento aren't very good and it takes time for New Orleans to win with Cousins, the Wolves and Nuggets could wind up in a two-team race.
Wishful thinking? Probably. But the fact the Wolves didn't change the roster at the trade deadline coupled with everything aforementioned – and Minnesota going 11-9 in its last 20 – maybe the Wolves are in a better position than they appear to be.
Also consider that at one point this season Minnesota had lost 11 of 20 games in which they had a double-digit lead. That means they've probably outplayed opponents in more quarters than they haven't. That theory is backed up via points per game differential leaders. Minnesota is 17th in the NBA, ranking ahead of Denver (20), Dallas (21), Sacramento (22), Portland (23) and New Orleans (25).