There might be temptation to overreact to the Timberwolves' 124-106 victory in their season debut against Houston on Wednesday. The Wolves looked crisp on both ends of the Target Center floor in a game that was never close beyond the second quarter. But their opponent tempers that temptation.
Many early-season projections have the Rockets among the worst teams in the league, so it's natural for fans to want to see how the Wolves stack up against some top-level competition.
The thing is, the schedule sets up the Wolves to have a relatively smooth start to the season. The first few weeks are filled with home games, with many coming against beatable teams. That includes the next two, both against a New Orleans team that will be playing without star forward Zion Williamson (right foot injury).
The Wolves' first true test of the season comes next Wednesday against the defending champion Bucks in Milwaukee, followed by a home game three days later with Denver. Then after that come home games against Orlando, projected to be near the bottom of the Eastern Conference, and a pair of home games against the Clippers, who will be without Kawhi Leonard (recovering from a right knee ACL repair).
That adds up to seven of the first eight games at home for the Wolves, with many against opponents they should or could beat if they have designs on escaping the Western Conference basement. Beating Houston was a first step, especially considering one of the Wolves' worst losses last season came against Houston at home. One night after outscoring the Rockets 22-0 in the final 7½ minutes for a 107-101 victory at Target Center on March 26, the Timberwolves were routed by regrouped Houston 129-107.
Coach Chris Finch said he hasn't emphasized trying to get off to a fast start, given the structure of the schedule.
"We haven't really kind of parsed it out that way," Finch said. "We're just focused on getting off to a great start [in the season opener]. We did early on, maybe talk about the advantages of being at home, but we haven't addressed it in a while. We'll look at it as it unfolds."
On the other hand, center Karl-Anthony Towns said he had a number in mind for how many wins he wanted the Wolves to have after this stretch of games. He wasn't going to share it, though.
"I think it's healthy to know where we want to be by the time these home games have passed by," Towns said. "… I've done it where you look at a 10-game stretch and we have to win five of the ten, six of the 10, seven of the 10. I've also been where you take it game by game, I've done it all different ways. I think it's healthy to, for me at least, to have expectations for ourselves in the first eight games and come out with a lot of energy."
That's what happened Wednesday night, especially on defense, as the Wolves forced the Rockets into 24 turnovers. Josh Okogie earned a lot of credit from teammates for the defensive energy he brought.
"Josh Okogie, man. He brings a different type of defensive intensity, defensive mind-set to the game," guard Anthony Edwards said. "Just him being locked in, it makes everybody else lock in because we gotta help him. If we do that, then we're a great team all around."
An aggressive defense will be the key if the Wolves want to make it through this eight-game stretch with a record above .500, especially since not every team will be as vulnerable to making mistakes as Houston was. The Wolves also said they fed off the crowd, which didn't have any capacity limits on it for the first time since before the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We got to protect our home court just like that if we were going anywhere," guard D'Angelo Russell said. "So I encourage and challenge all the fans listening to me right now to be as crazy and loud and make teams want to hate coming to Minnesota."
They'll have plenty of chances early in the season to practice.