The NBA regular season is just about wrapped up, which means that the play-in tournament that determines the seventh and eighth playoff spots in each conference will be kicking off soon. This is not a blog post about the broader competitive merits or “fairness” of the play-in tournament, because an argument in any direction will depend entirely on sets of circumstances that will change from season to season, and so trying to pin down whether or not the concept of the play-in tournament is good or bad from year to year is basically impossible. This blog post is simply here to say: Man, the poor Timberwolves.
The Timberwolves, who have recently become one of the more fun teams to watch on any given night of NBA action, currently occupy the seven seed in the Western Conference. At 43-34, they are a whole six games clear of the Clippers in the eighth spot, and 12 games clear of the Lakers, who currently reside in the toilet that is the 10 seed. If the season were to end today, the Wolves would be drafted into the play-in tournament, where they would face the Clippers. If they were to win that game, they would be slotted into the seven seed for the playoffs. If they were to lose to the Clippers, they would then have the chance to play for the eight seed by taking on the winner of the Lakers-Pelicans play-in game.
This seems like a particularly cruel destiny for the Wolves to be facing, given their circumstances. They have performed at a level that is a clear cut above the other three pile-of-crap teams that are headed towards the play-in tournament, and yet the fate of their season is going to rest on the results of two games—the first coming against a dreary Clippers team that has just gotten Paul George back into the mix, and a potential second likely coming against a truly pathetic Lakers team that could nevertheless manage to drag LeBron James and Anthony Davis back onto the court for two games and sneak their way into the first round.
Perhaps it is true that a team that truly deserves inclusion in the playoffs should be capable of earning their way into the postseason by winning one of two games. That argument makes a lot more sense, though, when the four teams included in the play-in tournament are all relatively close in the standings and there are still some questions left about which ones are better. But this year’s standings offer their own compelling evidence that the Wolves are significantly better than any of the other three. So they should simply win a game against one of those bozo teams and advance to the playoffs. Well, sure, but they already won a lot of games. In the regular season! Which should count for something!
It’s not just that the Wolves are a better or more deserving team. There is also the fact that they are vastly more entertaining than any of the three teams that could potentially oust them from the playoffs. Karl-Anthony Towns seems to have, at long last, discovered an edge and enthusiasm for the game that seemed to be missing in previous seasons; Anthony Edwards is an ascendant young star with as good a chance as anyone at authoring the best dunk of the playoffs; D’Angelo Russell is actually kind of good now! Do you really want to see LeBron, AD, and Russell Westbrook mope and pout through a first-round series loss, or do you want to see an actually competent team with a collection of feisty young players do shit like this:
So please, hold the Wolves in your heart and say a little prayer for their playoff chances. Do this before you remember that Patrick Beverley is on also on this team, and that it would in fact be extremely funny to see him kicked into hell by a team as stupid and dysfunctional as the Lakers.