It's early in both the NHL and NBA seasons, but we have probably seen enough from both the Wild and Wolves to pose this question: which team is more likely to make the playoffs based on what we know about their various strengths and weaknesses?
A couple weeks ago, we gave the opinion that the Wolves were the least dysfunctional (or most functional if you are an optimist) of the four men's major pro sports teams in town. We stand by that, primarily because we think they have the highest upside. But which team has the best chance of simply making the playoffs this year? Well, that's a different question. Here's how we break it down:
WOLVES (5-3 record)
What we like so far: Kevin Love is playing at a very high level and is the clear leader of the team ... the offseason acquisitions of Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer have clearly paid off, as both have been exactly as advertised -- Martin as an efficient scorer and great shooter, Brewer as a hustler, defender and fast break whiz ... the defense has been surprisingly efficient, ranking No. 5 in the NBA in that defensive efficiency category ... the team is full of good free throw shooters, a huge plus for cheap points and when closing out games.
What is working against them: The bench production has been bad at best most nights. When you think of benches, you want someone providing decent defense and instant offense. The Wolves' bench is shooting 8 of 45 from three-point range. Ouch. ... The Western Conference is brutally tough, with at least 12 teams capable of being in the playoff mix.
Great unknowns: Will they be able to keep up the defensive intensity? Will they be able to keep a couple smaller injuries from spiraling into another lost season? Will they figure out a good role for Derrick Williams or be able to trade him for a more useful part?
WILD (10-4-4 record)
What we like so far: The squad generally creates more chances than its opponent, which is always a good sign ... Josh Harding has been a tremendous story, but more than that he has been a fantastic goalie ... the offense, after a sluggish start, finally started to cash in on some of its chances.
What is working against them: Much like the Wolves, they are mired in a tough conference/division and will have to fight for every point. ... And for all of their improvements, we still don't feel as though they have one bona fide sniper, at least not one in his prime.
Great unknowns: Can Harding keep up his pace, with help from Backstrom? Will there be too many stretches where they don't bury chances?
We still like the Wolves as the answer, but by a hair. We think both teams make it, but we still say the Wolves are built better for actually winning a series.
Your thoughts, please, in the comments.