The Timberwolves have to be kicking themselves for losing four games this season to Phoenix and Memphis, the two worst teams in the NBA. If the Wolves had won only one of those games, they would be facing Portland, which lost the first three games of its playoff series to New Orleans, instead of Houston, the best team in the NBA.
And after getting blown out in Houston 102-82 on Wednesday, the Timberwolves will host their first playoff game in 5,075 days on Saturday in what will essentially be a do-or-die contest.
No team in NBA history has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit in a seven-game playoff series, and the Wolves trail Houston 2-0. And even that deficit might be insurmountable as teams with 2-0 leads have won the series 273 out of 292 times.
What was so baffling about the Wolves’ loss on Wednesday, after being competitive in Game 1, was that they held likely league MVP James Harden to 2-for-18 shooting, held the Rockets to their third-worst shooting night of the season (36.5 percent), and had a 23-18 lead after the first quarter.
But Houston outscored the Wolves 84-59 the rest of the way and the game was basically over at halftime.
Still, the bright spot for the Wolves going into Game 3 is they were drastically better at home than on the road this season. Their 30-11 home record was tied for the fifth best in the NBA while their 17-24 road mark ranked 16th.
After Game 2, the Wolves are left with a lot of questions. For the second consecutive game, All-Star center Karl-Anthony Towns was nowhere to be found and finished with five points, the second-lowest total of his career.
Towns played well against Houston during the regular season, averaging 23.8 points on 56.9 percent shooting. He had games of 22, 35, 18 and 20 points. That he has only 13 points in two playoff games is baffling. He’s averaging 6.5 points on 27.8 percent shooting.
On top of that, the Wolves’ other All-Star, guard Jimmy Butler, has not looked like himself after coming back from right knee surgery and now playing despite an injured right wrist. His 12-point average through two games is 10 under his season average.
One player who has come to play in his first postseason is forward Andrew Wiggins, who is averaging 15.5 points and 7.0 rebounds per game.
But if the Wolves are going to have any chance, they need Butler and Towns to get back to playing like All-Stars.
And while the Wolves were able to stop Harden after he scored 44 points in Game 1, the Rockets still blew them out. That shows how deep and effective Houston’s roster is.
Even former Wolves guard Gerald Green was great for Houston, scoring 21 points in 26 minutes and making five three-pointers.
But the Wolves know that winning Game 3 would immediately change the series, and the long-awaited return of playoff basketball to Target Center should make for a great atmosphere.
Taylor stayed patient
For owner Glen Taylor, who has been one of the longest tenured and most important figures in Minnesota sports since he took over the club in 1994, Saturday’s home playoff game has been a long time coming.
It says a lot about the kind of owner Taylor is, remaining patient enough to hold onto the franchise during the second-longest playoff drought in NBA history and the second-longest playoff drought among professional sports clubs in Minnesota.
During that 13-year stretch of trying to get the Wolves back to the postseason, Taylor had eight different coaches — Kevin McHale (twice), Dwane Casey, Randy Wittman, Kurt Rambis, Rick Adelman, Flip Saunders, Sam Mitchell and Tom Thibodeau — and signed dozens of players.
On top of that, the Wolves made some terrible front-office decisions, including when then-General Manager David Kahn passed on drafting Stephen Curry, who has gone on to become a two-time NBA MVP for Golden State.
So this will be a rewarding moment for Taylor, who also owns the Star Tribune. He has said that seeing Target Center back to sellouts after this many years has rejuvenated the front office and the club.
And while the Wolves went through some lean years, and there is no question that Taylor operated the franchise at a loss for nearly a decade, the NBA as a league has jumped in value by leaps and bounds ever since Steve Ballmer bought the Clippers for $2 billion in 2014.
Now the Wolves, according to Forbes Magazine, have seen their franchise go from an estimated value of $272 million in 2012 to $1.06 billion in 2018.
Saved franchise in ’94
There is no doubt Taylor’s commitment to the Timberwolves will be one of his lasting legacies.
In 1994 Taylor led a limited ownership group that bought the Timberwolves for $88.5 million from Marv Wolfenson and Harvey Ratner. This was after Wolfenson and Ratner tried moving the team to New Orleans and only five years after the Wolves’ inaugural season of 1989-1990.
“We founded the team and brought it here,” Wolfenson said on the day of the sale. “Whether people like us or not, we brought the team here and Glen Taylor kept it here. He’s the savior.”
Earlier this week, Taylor recalled how he became involved in the process to keep the Wolves in Minnesota.
“They were very close to moving, the governor [Arne Carlson] called me up and asked me to get involved at that time because the word was that they were going to move,” Taylor said. “I hadn’t thought about it, to ever purchase [the team], except that the governor asked me to negotiate it with another party earlier.
“Doing that, being a negotiate at that time, I did get a lot of information. So when Harv called me up on a Monday morning and asked me to look at it because he said, ‘You seem to be the guy who knows how to put this deal together.’ We made the decision on Thursday night and offered it to them Friday. In four days we went from not even knowing it was for sale to us, four days later, having a handshake deal.”
It was a great deal for Taylor and for the state’s basketball fans, who will finally get to watch another home playoff game on Saturday.
Taylor said that no matter the outcome of this postseason, the Wolves will look to improve this offseason and keep this level of play going for years to come.
“I don’t think we’re going to be satisfied with being [seeded] eighth,” he said. “I think our goal has to be, initially, we have to have home-court advantage because that just helps you so much. We see it here in Minnesota, how well our players play compared to when they’re on the road. That has to be our goal. And if it takes a new player to do that, we’ll do that.”
Sid Hartman can be heard on WCCO AM-830 at 8:40 a.m. Monday and Friday, 2 p.m. Friday and 10:30 a.m. Sunday. firstname.lastname@example.org