Column: Setting The 40-Win Goal
We’re in the final stretch of a Timberwolves season that didn’t go quite according to plan. That’s universally understood. The Wolves entered 2013-14 with a healthy team, a more balanced roster and the goal of ending the organization’s decade-long playoff drought.
Things didn’t go quite as planned. The Wolves hovered around .500 all season and are 38-38 as we close out this weekend. We’ve got two weeks to go, and Minnesota will not be in the postseason for the 10th straight year. That’s the difficult part. But there is room for growth and some small victories to be had in this 2013-14 season, and I’d like to point a couple out here as we head into the final six games.
First and foremost, the team is headed in the right direction. It doesn’t take much considering the dark days the organization went through post-Kevin Garnett, but the Wolves have increased their win total for the fifth straight season. They went from 15 to 17 to 26 to 31 over the past four years, and this year they have a chance to eclipse 40 for the first time since the 2004-05 campaign.
That’s an important milestone for this organization.
“We’re going to try to build something, and our goal now is to go over 40-plus wins, and that’s going to be a good season,” guard Ricky Rubio said. “But like we said, our goal was getting to the playoffs. But we couldn’t, but there’s some more goals to do, and we’re not going to stop.”
We’ve all been through the ups and downs together as Wolves fans over the years. We strive to get back to the days when postseasons come perennially and we continue to build toward more and more regular season victories. It doesn’t always happen overnight, regardless of what we hope will happen or the expectations we set. And sometimes the end result is hard to quantify based on those expectations.
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But what we can quantify is fact, and the fact is the Wolves have put together a 23 percent win increase from the 2012-13 campaign. They’re on pace to finish third in their division, which would mark the first time they’ve finished better than last place since 2008-09 and as high as third since 2004-05.
If the Wolves make it to 40 wins, it would be a big step toward getting back to those postseason years. I know the West is tougher today than it’s probably ever been. But statistically, a 40-42 season would have been good enough to get the Wolves into the playoffs in years past. It was good enough in 1996-97, when Minnesota earned its first postseason berth in franchise history.
The Wolves, which are wrapping up their 25th season, have been at or above .500 eight times in the previous 24 years. This would be a step toward getting back to that level of contention and expectation.
Which brings me to the most important part of this equation: The Wolves need to keep the intensity up and keep the wins flowing as best they can. What they do over the next two weeks will go a long ways toward their mindset next season.
If the Wolves’ players were to lose hope or start playing with less intensity—leading to a losing streak to end the year—that sets a precedence that this franchise does not want to bring with it into future seasons. That shows that losing is OK, that it’s part of who they are as a group. Picking when they want to show intensity is part of their makeup.
That’s not an acceptable mindset for this team. Not with what they’ve built this year and where they want to go.
The Wolves seem to be following suit. They’ve had their ups and downs all year, but they’re not throwing in the towel. They just pounced on a Grizzlies team at home this week that very much needed a win for their own playoff contention, beating them 102-88 with authority. And then when everyone counted them out against the Heat in Miami, they battled—and battled, and battled—and came away with a 122-121 win. Even in the Saturday loss to the Magic, the Wolves led in the second half despite missing Love, Pekovic, Martin, Muhammad and Budinger due to injury.
After that Memphis game, and against in Miami, guard Ricky Rubio said they understand the circumstances of their season, and while they aren’t content with missing the playoffs, they know the importance of finishing strong.
“The mentality has to be the same every game,” Rubio said. “I know it’s hard, but it has to be the same every game to win it. We’re not going to play the other teams, make it harder to [make the] playoffs. We’re going to play, because we want to do something.”
It’s important to keep it in perspective. The Wolves have higher ambitions, but I’d contend they won’t reach them in the future if they don’t keep the intensity high though the rest of this year—regardless of circumstances.
If they do that, it will go a long way.