In the developing, slightly weird Western conference, the 16-25 Denver Nuggets and even the 13-29 Minnesota Timberwolves aren’t out of the playoff picture, although it remains to be seen if the Timberwolves just won because they faced the Phoenix Suns or something is changing there.
With the Utah Jazz (18-22) holding on to the 8th spot in the West, it’s safe to say it’s going to be long time before we know who is going to the playoffs. The Sacramento Kings, New Orleans Pelicans and Portland Trail Blazers are hard on their trail. The Timberwolves? If their form from earlier this season comes back, they might be able to put up something of a fight. The Suns, who have the same record as the Timberwolves, are probably going to be giving the Los Angeles Lakers a fight for worst record in the conference and who knows, maybe even the league.
So after nine straight losses, the Timberwolves see a little lifeline or light at the end of the tunnel, depending on which metaphor you prefer. They crushed the Suns 117-87, only the second time in the last 30 days with over 100 points, and by far their most impressive performance of the season. It doesn’t matter (or maybe it does, a little) that the Suns might be worse than the Philadelphia 76ers at this point; this is the kind of performance that can make a team explode, if they sort out some stuff.
The Nuggets, recently beating the Golden State Warriors, have won four of their last six, breaking an annoying losing streak that hurt the impression from their good start of the season. Their 129-126 win over the Indiana Pacers is another victory over a very good team, this time doing a lot more than just riding Danilo Gallinari’s coattails. He finished with 23 points, not letting the defense really affect his game, but he was part of seven Nuggets players scoring in double figures, including 21 for Will Barton, who might be the most fun to watch player in the NBA right now, and 20 from Gary Harris. Nikola Jokic even got caught up in the scoring fever, finishing with 18, winning thanks to a late Randy Foye 3-pointer. Foye might not be the best of point guards or even close to it, but has made things happen late in games quite a few times during his career.
For both teams and especially the Timberwolves, it’s a where do we go from here kind of situation. Is Wiggins, who has been struggling in his second season in the league, going to change things up and play like the stat the Timberwolves need him to be? Can the bench become more consistent offensively? Can the defense stop leaking points with ease? Sounds like a lot needs to change in a very short time, but basically, not falling into these long losing streaks would help.
As for the Nuggets, they look like they can stay and keep up with the pace of the slower runners. They have a legitimate star in Gallinari and more than one or two scoring threats around him. If Mike Malone can get this defense to stay focused and maybe most importantly, for Emmanuel Mudiay to stop turning over the ball so much (7 in the win over the Pacers), they might end up being the biggest surprise of the season, considering how low the expectations were a few months ago.