That said, attempting to finish above .500, while a modest goal, would still be a step forward. It wouldn't immediately solve the many looming offseason questions -- No. 1 by a long shot being the status of star Kevin Love -- but it would at least continue to elevate the franchise from laughable afterthought to at least intriguing.
On a lot of teams, giving a lot of playing time to rookies at the end of the year would signal a sort of throwing in of the towel -- a move that would be tough to reconcile with a goal of finishing the year strong.
For the Wolves, we think it's just the opposite. We've seen enough of Gorgui Dieng and Shabazz Muhammad to believe that increased minutes over the final 17 games, at the very least, would not be a detriment to winning. They both bring enough to the table with skills other players on the team lack -- Dieng with his shot-blocking and defensive presence inside, Muhammad with his ability to rebound and post-up and score on smaller wings -- that they should give the Wolves the best of both worlds down the stretch: the chance to see them in extended minutes while also giving the team a chance to win.
There's really no excuse not to see more of both. Dieng is the best candidate for an extended run, with Nikola Pekovic nursing his ankle injury again and Ronny Turiaf still out. As good as Pek is, we wouldn't be heartbroken to see him shut down for the rest of the year if it meant Dieng was going to get 30 minutes a game, which he proved he could handle against Sacramento when he had a double-double along with five blocks.
Muhammad played zero minutes in that game. Maybe it was a match-up thing. Maybe the coaches weren't wild about what they had seen in recent stints. Whatever the case, we really hope it's not a trend. Muhammad can't expect the same minutes as Dieng because the injury situation isn't the same at his spot, but we'd love to see him stretched out to 15-20 minutes a game.
The Wolves are going to have to get creative in the offseason if they are going to upgrade their roster and take another step forward. But this opportunity is simple: find out how much your two first-round picks from 2013 have progressed and how much you think you can count on them in the rotation next year.