Brandon Veale column: NBA, Minnesota Timberwolves take up mantle of playoff chaos
The Wolves could win their NBA playoff series or lose both games by 30 or something in between.
Because of a break they scheduled for an Olympics they didn't participate in, the National Hockey League's Stanley Cup Playoffs don't begin until next week.
This means the NBA Playoffs, and particularly the Minnesota Timberwolves, have had much of the spotlight to themselves last week. Through four games, their best-of-seven series with the Memphis Grizzlies has checked off every box for entertainment. Eyebrow-raising Game 1 road win by the lower seed? Check. Game that goes down to the wire in the middle of the night? Check, and we didn't even have three overtimes to sit through like in hockey. A game in which the Wolves blow TWO 20-point leads, reinforcing every negative stereotype their fan base has of them and Minnesota men's professional sports in general? Check and CHECK.
To steal a phrase from another pillar of Minnesota sports lore, Dennis Green, "The Wolves ... are who we thought they were." And on Saturday, Memphis let them off the hook.
If there's anything we've learned from the first four games, it's that Minnesota is the basketball equivalent of a 1980's Ferrari: Capable of going from 0 to 60 points in seconds and equally capable of going from 60 to 0 just as quickly, either by careening into a guardrail of their own making or spewing blue smoke from the tailpipe.
Karl-Anthony Towns has crowned himself the "best-shooting big man of all time," which is good, except you can't make threes when you're sitting on the bench after taking an unnecessary fourth foul. Nor can you make a bunch of threes when you take four shots in a game, like Towns did in Game 3.
As for the defensive end, Minnesota was already the worst of the NBA's 16 playoff teams in points allowed, so it probably shouldn't be a surprise that Memphis' Desmond Bane has made 15 3-pointers in the last two games. On the flip side, Grizzlies star Ja Morant's scoring has gone down in all four games of the series thus far (32, 23, 16, 11).
Is Anthony Edwards healthy? Will the officials give Pat Beverly or Towns a technical foul for complaining about calls? Nobody knows.
The Minnesota Timberwolves are pure chaos. They could win this series. They could lose games 5 and 6 by 30 points apiece. And that's OK. It's not all that different from anyone else in the league, and it makes for interesting television.
For example, Memphis, which is nominally the No. 2 seed in the West, has been down double digits three times in the first four games and is one (or two) catastrophic collapses from being on the brink of elimination.
Both No. 1 seeds (Miami and Phoenix) are currently tied 2-2 in their series. I'm not betting on it, but if Brooklyn staves off elimination vs. Boston on Monday night, there will be no sweeps in the first round for the first time since 2003.
On the other hand, the eight playoff teams in the NHL's Eastern Conference were mathematically decided two weeks before the end of the regular season and functionally decided by early February. The Wild knew several days ago that their first-round series will be against St. Louis and are now just playing out the string to decide if Game 1 will be in Minnesota or Missouri. The only playoff race remaining features Nashville, Dallas and Vegas fighting for two wild cards, the second of which will face Colorado and what Calgary coach Darryl Sutter basically declared an automatic sweep.
Sutter may be wrong, but it's kind of amazing how the shoe is on the other foot when it comes to playoff excitement.
A few days ago, after seeing video of the electric atmosphere at Target Center for Game 3, I was reminded of the best underdog building environment I've ever seen: Edmonton's Rexall Place before Game 3 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Final. The city that dominated the 1980s and then had gone 12 years without reaching the conference finals before surviving the 2005 lockout reached the Stanley Cup Final as a No. 8 seed in a year in which all four top seeds lost in the first round. The video looks like it was recorded on a 20-year-old Magna Doodle, but the energy explodes through the screen and gives me goosebumps even now, and it could happen again at Target Center some day.
I don't think the Minnesota Timberwolves are going to win the NBA Finals. I don't really think they're going to win this first-round series. But they could.
Brandon Veale is the sports editor of the News Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.