NBA Minnesota Timberwolves

5 Teams the Minnesota Timberwolves Must Beat to Reach the NBA Playoffs

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5 Western Conference Playoff Contenders The Wolves Must Beat

Greg Smith - USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Timberwolves have started the season hot going 3-0. Of these three wins, two came against playoff teams in the New York Knicks and Oklahoma City Thunder. The Timberwolves will need to continue winning games if they seek to make the playoffs, but they must especially win their games against Western Conference competition.

In the Western Conference, six teams are virtual playoff locks -- the San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers, Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets, Golden State Warriors, and Memphis Grizzlies. Three teams have basically no chance of making the playoffs -- the Phoenix Suns, Utah Jazz, and Sacramento Kings. This leaves The Timberwolves along with five other teams fighting for the final two playoff spots.

The Timberwolves must perform against these fringe playoff teams in order to secure their own playoff spot, but it won’t be easy. The Western Conference is full of stiff competition even among those teams battling for the 7th and 8th seeds, and it will be exciting to see who can make it out of the regular season.

New rivalries may be formed this year as the talent in the west seems spread out enough that almost every team has a shot, however small, at making the postseason. All five of the teams the Timberwolves must beat have made the playoffs more recently than the Timberwolves, and they enter the season with the most to prove. The Timberwolves’ core players are all healthy and look to log major minutes together for the first time in years.

These five teams are looking to spoil the Minnesota Timberwolves’ return to the playoffs.

Nick Guenther is a Minnesota Timberwolves writer for Follow him on twitter @nickynicknickk or add him to your network on Google .

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5. Portland Trail Blazers

Mark J. Rebilas - USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Trail Blazers have missed the playoffs the past two years after losing in the first round for three straight years. LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum are still around and have entered their primes. They are now working with Damian Lillard, the young scoring point guard who won Rookie of the Year last year. The Trail Blazers have plenty of weaknesses in that they don’t have a real starting caliber center or a deep bench, but Lillard, Aldridge, and Batum may still lead them back to the playoffs. The Timberwolves play the Trail Blazers December 18, January 25, February 8, and February 23.

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4. Los Angeles Lakers

Robert Hanashiro - USA TODAY Sports

Last year the Los Angeles Lakers sneaked into the playoffs as the eighth seed after a late season run. This year the Lakers don’t have Dwight Howard, and they won’t have Kobe Bryant back for a while. They’ve added a bunch of young shooters and guys with borderline NBA talent. Still, they have Pau Gasol, and when Kobe returns he may be able to drag the Lakers to another first round exit. The Timberwolves play the Lakers November 10, December 20, February 4.

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3. Dallas Mavericks

Jerome Miron - USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Mavericks failed to make the playoffs last year for the first time since the 1999-2000 season and look to return this year. The Mavericks have fallen off quite a bit since defeating the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals in 2011. They still have Dirk Nowitzki, but for the most part their lineup is drastically different. This offseason they added Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon, both of whom should work well with Nowitzki, but they have some serious weaknesses. The Mavericks’ current starting center is Samuel Dalembert, and their defense will be among the worst in the league. The Timberwolves play the Mavericks November 8, November 30, December 30, and March 19.

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2. New Orleans Pelicans

Derick E. Hingle - USA TODAY Sports

In their first year under a new name, the New Orleans Pelicans have made some bold moves. They traded for Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans, losing draft picks and Greivis Vasquez. The Pelicans have to hope these moves will push them into the playoffs this year, somewhere they haven’t been since losing Chris Paul. Sophomore Anthony Davis is looking great (and huge!) so far after a slightly disappointing, injury-riddled rookie year. If all their talented pieces work together, the Pelicans may be back in the playoffs this year. The Timberwolves play the Pelicans January 1, January 29, and February 7.

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1. Denver Nuggets

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The Denver Nuggets are the only team on this list who made the playoffs last year. They were the third seed too, so it’s strange to imagine they may be fighting for a playoff berth this year. The Nuggets lost some key pieces in coach George Karl and Andre Iguodala, and Danilo Gallinari will miss much of the season recovering from a torn ACL. Though these losses aren’t huge, the Nuggets will be significantly worse and a number of other Western Conference teams will be significantly better. This puts their playoff chances in jeopardy, though they still have the best chance on this list at getting the 7th seed or higher. The Timberwolves play the Nuggets November 15, November 27, February 12, and March 3.