Aside from letting out nearly a season's worth of frustration with his rant about officiating in Wednesday's loss to Phoenix, Rudy Gobert also had a little gamesmanship in his words.
The Timberwolves' center was undoubtedly trying to influence how referees are going to officiate the Wolves in the final five games of the regular season, a stretch in which the Wolves' place in the standings could swing wildly from as high as fourth or out of the play-in tournament altogether.
That stretch starts Friday night when the Los Angeles Lakers — and NBA career scoring leader LeBron James — come to town.
Gobert took aim at a talking point fans like to spout on social media and in the comments sections of articles: that the league officiates the Timberwolves, a franchise down in the NBA pecking order, differently from other marquee names and teams.
"It's not fair. It's really not fair," Gobert said after Wednesday's game. "Every night. I've been in this league for 10 years and I try to always give the benefit of the doubt, but it's hard for me to think they're not trying to help them win tonight. It's hard for me to think they didn't try to help the Warriors win the other night or Sacramento Kings the other night. It's just so obvious. As a basketball player that's been in this league for so long, it's disrespectful."
But Gobert also had in mind some particular players he said the league would like to see in the playoffs over those on the Wolves, and he mentioned the Lakers, who are a half-game behind the seventh-place Wolves in the Western Conference playoff race.
"We understand that we're not the biggest of the markets and we're a team that – I think you want to see KD [Kevin Durant] in the playoffs, Steph [Stephen Curry] in the playoffs, you want to see LeBron in the playoffs. Timberwolves are not there yet."
Gobert's words finally laid bare some of the simmering frustration the team has had with officiating. Perhaps now that Gobert and coach Chris Finch, who was critical of the foul differential (24-16) in Wednesday's loss to Phoenix, aired it all out for the public to hear, the Wolves can move on and not get in their own heads about it during a game.
Will they let a few bad calls affect them even more, in light of what Gobert said? Or will they now be able to shake them off better? Last season, it seemed like the Wolves let what they deemed as bad officiating affect them on the floor. Bad calls would compound bad play and spill over into runs for opponents.
This season's team has a different makeup and has shown a maturity of late that last season's team didn't have — maturity thanks to the presence of Gobert, Kyle Anderson and Mike Conley.
"It's tough. We're all so competitive and when we see that happening and the game literally changing because of certain calls being called and not called, it gets frustrating and it's hard not to look at it from that angle and that perspective," Conley said of Wednesday's officiating. "Like, man, why aren't we getting the same love? But at the same time, we have to knock that door down. We're here to win, and we got to go win and there's no excuses."
This has fallen in line with how Gobert feels he has been officiated throughout his career, since his other nine years were spent in the smaller NBA market of Utah. He said he would look at data on margin of error for calls in the NBA, and he said it seemed like bigger-market teams often got the benefit of the calls.
"It might be a coincidence," Gobert said. "The biggest markets were always top of the list, but it's probably a coincidence."
Gobert's words in that moment were laced with sarcasm and he gave a sly smile when he was done talking.