April 11, 2018, 12:21 pm
It all comes down to this. One final matchup to determine the 16th and final playoff spot in the NBA.
This is the equivalent of the 11-seed play-in game for the NCAA tournament, or the MLB Wild Card playoff game. Everything is on the line. If it feels like this doesn’t happen often, that would be a correct assumption. This is only sixth true one-game playoff in NBA history, and the first in more than two decades.
— Dave Benz (@davebenz) April 10, 2018
Oddly enough the Nuggets have been involved in half of the games. The Wolves hope to put the first blemish on that record with a win on their home floor.
Hosting the Nuggets at the Target Center is a huge advantage for Minnesota. The Wolves are 29-11 at home with a net rating of 5.5, compared to just 17-24 on the road and a -0.8 net rating. Their offense specifically takes a major leap at home with a 112.6 rating, good for third best in the NBA. They also avoid the high altitude of Denver.
With a healthy Jimmy Butler back in the fold the Wolves look to be in a great spot of take the final game of the season, but there are areas of concern.
Taj Gibson’s status is unknown after he left early in the last game with a neck injury. He is the key cog on the interior, and one of the Wolves’ only chances at stopping Nikola Jokic. He’s also an emotional leader for the team and a veteran of these situations. More than anyone else on the floor Taj has extensive playoff experience (which this game basically is).
Another worry is how tough the Nuggets have been lately. Their backs were to the wall just a couple of weeks ago. Many left them out of the playoff picture after consecutive losses put them in 10th place and a slate of tough games ahead. Instead of succumbing to pressure, the Nuggets went on to win six games in a row. Without this late push they wouldn’t find themselves in this position.
The pressure is on for both sides and the intensity should be through the roof. The Wolves are looking to break a 13-year drought, while the Nuggets are on their fifth consecutive season out of the playoffs. Both teams were built to be among the top eight in the West and it won’t be fair for one side, but what’s sports without some adversity?
Should the Timberwolves pull off the victory and celebrate, they could climb to as high as sixth with some help, or stick in eighth. The most likely outcome for tomorrow, based on the odds on favorites, would saddle the Wolves into the eighth seed. The Wolves can only jump to sixth if the Grizzlies beat the Thunder and the Spurs beat the Pelicans.
A more reasonable outcome would be to hope for a Spurs victory and expect a Thunder win. The Wolves would clinch the seventh seed and face the Warriors in the first round. It’s a daunting task, but without Stephen Curry they have sputtered of late.
So as the Wolves and Nuggets are battling, keep an eye on the Spurs-Pelicans and Thunder-Grizzlies contests. Each game starts at the same time (all somehow just locally televised) so resolution for the playoff picture should be swift, at least for the bottom teams. The other major battle is for third place in the West between Utah and Portland. That one doesn’t start until later in the night, though.
Jeff Teague – PG
Jimmy Butler – SG
Andrew Wiggins – SF
Taj Gibson – PF
Karl-Anthony Towns – C
Jamal Murray – PG
Will Barton – SG
Wilson Chandler – SF
Nikola Jokic – PF
Paul Millsap – C
Taj Gibson (neck) – QUESTIONABLE
Tyler Lydon (knee) – OUT
Where: Target Center, Minneapolis, MN
When: 8:00 ET/7:00 CT
How: Fox Sports North+