Jon Krawczynski, the very good local Associated Press reporter and all-around good guy (despite our differences when it comes to pink Starburst, which are awful), had a very informative tweet Thursday. Per Jonny K, the Wolves — in their six games since the NBA All-Star break – rank first in the entire NBA in a bunch of categories, including defensive rating, overall net rating, field goal percentage and rebounding margin.
It’s no secret the Wolves have been playing much better lately. The eye test tells the story, but the stats tell it to a more comparative degree. Once buried on the local sports landscape, they’re suddenly feisty — with Friday night’s home game against Golden State suddenly about more than just he opponent.
At this moment, the Wolves are even hotter than the Wild. Make no mistake: I am going to lose this friendly wager over who would win more game this year – Wolves or Wild — and lose it badly. My friend Rocket, who took the Wild, has already started counting down the magic number, which is down to three, and sends a .GIF via text every time the Wild wins or Wolves lose. But: Since Feb. 8, a full month ago, the Wolves (7-4) do have a better record if we just consider wins and losses regardless of overtime/shootout than the Wild (7-6). And yes, I’m mostly posting this so that I get a long, scathing text from Rocket later.
The bigger question, as always with the Wolves when they show glimmers of hope, is whether they are starting to figure things out for good or if they are merely on a hot streak. Six games is an agonizingly small sample size; the last 26 games is a little better, and the Wolves are 15-11 in that span.
But it’s way too early to say the Wolves have turned a corner. This is a team that won five of six in late January and then looked lost and confused on defense again in losing four in a row to start February.
Frankly, I’m not sure at what point we could even declare a corner has been turned, though a win tonight would be another step. I asked that question to head coach Tom Thibodeau after practice Thursday — how to distinguish between whether the Wolves are figuring it out or are just on a nice run — and he replied:
“I think the big thing is you take it day-by-day. The challenge is to continue to improve, to have an edge, to understand what goes into winning and work at it every day. We know there’s a lot of work to be done.”
Translation: he’s nowhere close to declaring that this team has turned the corner, at least not publicly, even if he clearly has been much happier with the Wolves’ play of late.
Minnesota has held five of six opponents since the break to under 100 points (four of them to 91 or fewer) — though the other was the Rockets, who torched the Wolves for 142.
If the Wolves continue to play at a similar rate for the rest of this season and go from 11-26 at one point to 26-37 now to, say, 37-45 at the finish — probably missing the playoffs by a game or two, but still having gone through meaningful games late in the season — you could call this season an improvement even if you wouldn’t label it a success. And maybe by then it would be OK to believe the Wolves had turned an actual corner.