5 Things to Watch for During the Minnesota Timberwolves' Final Games
It's almost over.
The Minnesota Timberwolves entered the 2013-14 NBA regular season as a team with impressive upside. With a superstar in Kevin Love and a dramatically improved supporting cast, the postseason became more of an expectation than a dream.
Unfortunately, a berth in the playoffs is only attainable if the Timberwolves pull out a true basketball miracle. Nevertheless, the games must be played and questions will be answered by season's end.
The question is, what should you be watching for during the final stretch?
Gorgui Dieng's Usage
No player has been as pleasant of a recent surprise as Minnesota Timberwolves center Gorgui Dieng. He's been a force to be reckoned with on the glass and is reminding people of why he was a first-round draft pick.
The question is, will he continue to see significant minutes as the season winds down?
Over the course of his past eight games, Dieng is averaging 11.9 points, 13.0 rebounds and 1.0 block in 30.6 minutes of action. The latter number suggests that he's receiving a steady level of opportunity, but that's not the case.
Dieng has seen 25 minutes or less in three of those eight games. After posting 15 points and 15 rebounds in 41 minutes on March 26, Dieng proceeded to tally 14 points and nine boards in 23 minutes in his next outing.
One game later, he had five points and 11 rebounds in 19 minutes.
The production remains steady and impressive, but the minutes Dieng receives are inconsistent at best.
That steady decline doesn't go hand-in-hand with just how excellently the Timberwolves have played. For that reason, it's reasonable and acceptable to question how long Dieng will be on the court as the season comes to a close.
Minnesota is seven games back of the No. 8 seed with just 10 games remaining. Developing the future needs to be a point of emphasis in Minnesota.
Shabazz Muhammad's Opportunities
Without doing a medical evaluation, it's rational to believe that Minnesota Timberwolves head coach Rick Adelman is allergic to providing Shabazz Muhammad with consistent playing time.
Even when the rookie small forward out of UCLA plays well, he's stripped of any opportunity to develop his game as an NBA force with uncertainty about what his role will be from night-to-night.
According to Nate Sandell of 1500 ESPN, coach Adelman has no intention of changing his approach:
I don't worry about individuals as much as you guys do. I mean, really. I'm trying to win games and play guys I think can help us.
If the playoffs are nothing more than a pipe dream, the only rational thing to do is develop the first-round draft picks.
If there were shining players ahead of Muhammad on the depth chart, there wouldn't be much controversy. Chase Budinger has done nothing to prove that he's more deserving of playing time.
In an average of 18.1 minutes played per game, Budinger is posting 6.3 points on a slash line of .377/.327/.828. Not only is that underwhelming, but it's the type of play that often gets players benched.
Muhammad hasn't been perfect, but he deserves to close out the season with significant playing time to further along his development.
Rick Adelman's Final Games?
Can it be put any simpler than this?
According to Marc Stein of ESPN, Minnesota Timberwolves head coach Rick Adelman is expected to step down at the end of the season. The 67-year-old is one of the winningest coaches in regular-season history, but medical issues could play a factor in his potential departure.
I don't even know what report that is. I have no idea. There are a lot of reports out there. There are a lot of experts. A lot of reports, lot of channels. I don't watch them all.
I'm just concentrating on these games ... We'll find out if that happens, but right now I'm involved in this season and asking these guys to put the effort out every night. I don't know if that answers your question, but that is as good as I got.
As the season winds down, a critical question will be answered: What does Adelman's future hold in Minnesota?
If Adelman is able to motivate his players and lead Minnesota to a strong ending to the season, the likelihood of his return would increase. At 8-7 in March, however, the Timberwolves haven't provided much reason for confidence.
Keep a close eye on what could be Adelman's final games in Minnesota.
Blake Griffin vs. Kevin Love
On Monday, March 31, the Minnesota Timberwolves will play the Los Angeles Clippers. It will be a game of minimal importance to the playoffs, with L.A. having clinched a berth and the T-Wolves needing a miracle to reach the postseason.
Fortunately, there's a position battle that reflects the future and the present of the NBA: Kevin Love versus Blake Griffin.
Griffin has emerged as a top-five MVP candidate with the Clippers during the 2013-14 regular season. Love, meanwhile, remains one of the most statistically impressive players in recent NBA history.
Both men are popular choices for the label of "best power forward in the world," and every matchup between them seems to be memorable.
The last time the Clippers and Timberwolves play, L.A. won an instant classic 120-116 in overtime. Love posted 45 points, 19 rebounds and six assists, while Griffin tallied 32 points, 10 rebounds and four steals in a memorable bout.
The playoffs are a pipe dream, but a matchup between stars is impossible to not get excited by.
Can Minnesota Achieve a Miracle Run?
Over the course of the past week, few videos have generated as much attention as Kevin Love's infamous postgame interview. Many have referred to it as an example of Love checking out, while others contest that it's a form of frustration.
Thus far, nothing is proved. As the season winds down, however, one question of the utmost importance will be answered: Can Minnesota overcome the negative headlines and pull off a miracle run to the postseason.
The Timberwolves are currently 36-36 with seven games standing between them and both the No. 7 and No. 8 seeds in the Western Conference. With just 10 games remaining and seven of those outings coming against teams with winning records, it'd take a miracle for the T-Wolves to make the playoffs.
It may be unlikely, but hope should not be lost. Not yet.