At the start of this season, the San Antonio Spurs, Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Houston Rockets were considered locks for the top playoff spots. Now that the season is a quarter of the way through, a new team has emerged as a contender in the West.
The Portland Trail Blazers were considered a fringe playoff team at best before the season started, but the Blazers now sit atop the west with an 18-4 record. They are for real, and barring a colossal breakdown they will make the playoffs. That makes six playoff teams, leaving two spots for the rest of the West, and making the Minnesota Timberwolves’ return to the playoffs that much more difficult and improbable.
There are six teams that have a chance at those last two spots, making this year’s competition for the No. 7 and 8 seeds as fierce as ever. The Denver Nuggets and Memphis Grizzlies were high seeds last year, but after coaching changes and losing some key players they aren’t guaranteed to make it. The Timberwolves, Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers, and New Orleans Pelicans will all be competing with the Nuggets and Grizzlies to squeeze into the playoffs.
After starting the season so hot, the Timberwolves are now back to .500 at 11-11, leaving them just outside the 8th seed. The Timberwolves will need to pull away from the pack as it’s likely most of those six teams will finish at or above .500. Anthony Davis and Marc Gasol missing extended time for the Pelicans and Grizzlies respectively means there is a window of opportunity for the Timberwolves and other playoff hopefuls to gain valuable ground in the playoff hunt.
The Wolves have looked good since sending Derrick Williams off to the Sacramento Kings for defensive specialist Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, and they need to build off of their recent success. The unfortunate situation is that at least four good teams will miss the playoffs in the Western Conference, but the Timberwolves can squeeze in if they play their brand of fast-paced basketball and defend well.