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Wolves Keeping Pressure On Themselves As They Prepare For Houston


Julian Andrews
Web Editorial Associate

As an eighth seed facing down a title favorite in the first round of the NBA playoffs, it would be easy for the Wolves to say that all the pressure is on Houston. The national media expects the Rockets to beat Minnesota, and you could forgive the Wolves for simply being happy to be participating in the playoffs after a 14-year drought.

But there is one key group that refuses to count the Wolves out—Minnesota players and coaches.

“We expect nothing but greatness from ourselves. We didn’t wake up this morning and be like ‘Hey we’re going to Houston!’ We woke up saying, ‘We’re going to go to Houston and get the job done,’” said Karl-Anthony Towns after practice on Friday. “We put pressure on ourselves because we want to be so great, we want to be the best team possible that we can be.”

Taj Gibson, an 11-year veteran who is about to begin his eighth playoff run, expressed a similar sentiment. For Gibson, there is always pressure to perform in the playoffs, no matter the odds.

“We are professional and in whatever you do you want to be the top, be the best,” he said. “Playoffs there’s always going to be pressure because it’s the bright lights, it’s the most important time of the year when you’re playing not only for the city but you’re playing for the name on your back. You’re trying to do what’s right for your team and your family.”

The Wolves have a good mix of veterans with tons of playoff experience and younger guys who are eager to learn, but none of Minnesota’s players are completely green—the stretch run of the regular season was playoff-like, and without Jimmy Butler on the court for much of it, players like Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Tyus Jones were forced to grow up fast.

“The best thing about what happened down the stretch was a lot like playoff basketball, just the intensity of all the games, the closeness of the race. The Denver game was very close to a Game 7, so I think our young guys gained valuable experience from that,” said coach Tom Thibodeau. “It helped those young guys learn and grow and understand toughness and that’s a big part of what this is. You get to playoff basketball and the physicality of it, there’s a mental toughness aspect of it and you have to be able to get though those things.”

Anyone who has played in the NBA has heard their fair share of doubters, but that doesn’t mean they have to listen. The only opinions that matter are those of the other guys in the locker room.

“At the end of the day we don’t need anyone to tell us their opinions of how the series will go,” said Towns. “We have confidence and we talk to each other, so that’s all we need is confidence in each other at this point.”