After a positive 16-17 start for the much-improved Minnesota Timberwolves, the only negative about the season so far would be the 0-3 start in the Northwest Division.
This division is commonly considered one of the toughest in the NBA, with every team having a chance to be in the playoffs. There is not one team that is more than two games out of the eighth seed in the conference. This is the only division in basketball that can say that.
If the Wolves want to have any chance of competing for a playoff spot, they will need to step it up. Minnesota still has 10 games against division foes remaining, so they will have plenty of chances to prove their worth within the division.
This slideshow will show how the T-wolves stack up against the competitive Northwest Division.
Currently holding the top spot in the Western Conference, the Thunder are definite title contenders for the 2011-12 season.
Oklahoma City was victorious over Minnesota, 104-100, in their only meeting so far this season.
In that matchup the Wolves had a tough time containing All-Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, who scored 33 and 28 points, respectively. There is almost nothing that can be done to contain these two superstars, and every team has trouble with them.
Luckily, the Timberwolves are a much different team now. At the time, both Michael Beasley and Darko Milicic were starters. Now, with Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic being very pleasant surprises, the game plan for the Thunder would have to be much different.
OKC is still one of the best teams in the NBA and are a very tough matchup for any team. They are young and have a loaded starting lineup.
With Minnesota taking the Oklahoma City road to success, this will be a great rivalry for the future.
After a thrilling 103-101 overtime win by Denver on Monday night, it is easy to see the Nuggets and Wolves are very even teams.
Without a single player averaging 20 points per game, the Nuggets are one of the most balanced teams in the NBA. Without a star player, anybody can step up for a big game at any time—that was evident when Al Harrington just dropped 31 points in the overtime win.
One of the most interesting matchups in this rivalry is the point guard position. Rubio and Ty Lawson were both first-round draft picks by Minnesota in the 2009 NBA Draft. Lawson was then traded by the Wolves to the Nuggets on the day of the draft. These two will match up against each other many times in the future.
The Nuggets do not have a starter over the age of 30 and are already team-ready for the playoffs.
Denver against Minnesota is becoming a very exciting, competitive rivalry.
The Blazers are the only team in the Northwest Division yet to play against the Wolves this season. Portland is currently seeded ninth in the Western Conference and are only half a game out of the final playoff spot.
Both the Timberwolves and Trail Blazers own stellar, young power forwards. Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge were both selected to the 2012 All-Star Game in Orlando and will both be participants for the Western Conference for the next several years.
The Love-Aldridge matchup could be one of the best positional battles in the Northwest Division for years to come. Nikola Pekovic against Greg Oden would also be an interesting matchup—if Oden can ever become healthy enough to play consistently.
With only one starter over the age of 30 in Marcus Camby, Portland will also be playoff contenders and difficult matchups for the T-wolves in the foreseeable future.
After a 108-98 victory over the Timberwolves on January 21st, Utah improved their record to 10-5. Since then, the Jazz have been 5-11 and have dropped into a last-place tie with Minnesota in the division.
With 19.1 points and 9.3 boards per game, Al Jefferson is the most consistent player for the Jazz this season. Many Minnesota fans remember that a few short years ago "Big Al" was supposed to be the future of the T-wolves, but since he was unable to play effectively with K-Love, he was traded prior to the 2010-11 season.
The Love-Jefferson matchup is a just a preview of what this division rivalry could become.
The future of the Jazz hangs on the development of Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. These four prospects show great potential and could propel this Jazz team from an eighth-seed-caliber team to a top team in the Western Conference in a couple years.
If Rubio, Love, Pekovic and Derrick Williams can develop together as well, this will lead to some great matchups between the Wolves and Jazz in the future.
With each of the five teams in the Northwest Division having a very realistic chance of making the playoffs in the 2011-12 season, this is easily one of the best divisions in the NBA.
There are only three players that are 30-plus years of age that have had 10 or more starts this season in the division.
Despite the youth of these teams, they are still all in a position to make the playoffs. All five teams are just starting to get into the prime years of their superstar players and should all compete for playoff spots for the next decade.
With the average age of the Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs starting to increase, the Western Conference will start to open up just in time for the Northwest Division to take over.