Tom Thibodeau sits at a long table to conduct his postgame interviews. The table holds two sports drinks. Thibodeau would probably prefer lozenges.
Watch Thibodeau gyrate and cuss on the sideline for a game and you wonder what is more at risk: fans’ eardrums or Thibodeau’s heart.
The Timberwolves coach returned from a trip to Phoenix looking like he had avoided any exposure to the sun. He spent the Timberwolves’ game against Indiana on Thursday night at Target Center waving his hands like a conductor with an out-of-tune orchestra.
He screamed at officials, earning a technical foul he probably regrets. He screamed at his own players. He screamed on virtually every possession, just as he has all season. Mere proximity to him can give you secondhand angst.
When the Timberwolves were at their worst this season it would have been reasonable to question whether players would tire of the histrionics, but even a lethargic 109-103 loss to the Pacers doesn’t alter the revised arc of Thibs’ first season in Minnesota.
Following a deflating beginning to what was supposed to be a different season, the Wolves are getting better. Perhaps because of his yelling. More likely because of how he communicates when he’s not yelling.
His language on the sideline is salty. The way he talks about his players in public is not. Players can handle volume. What they can’t stand is disingenuousness.
Behind the scenes, Thibodeau is said to be even-tempered and fair. And there is something to be said for an NBA coach who demands attentiveness on every possession of every game. That’s what will be required if this team ever contends for a championship. And that behavior would look more proportional in a playoff series.
At his postgame news conference, Thibodeau said he was disappointed in the Wolves’ slow start and low energy, and happy with their “fight’’ in the fourth quarter.
A couple of minutes later, Andrew Wiggins was asked what Thibodeau told the team after the game.
“He’s honest,’’ Wiggins said. “He said we were flat but he likes the way we fought at the end.’’
If Thibodeau’s players had tired of him, they probably wouldn’t be showing improvement. The Wolves have won six of their past nine. They had a three-game winning streak broken Thursday. Their defense has improved dramatically in the past month.
So, congratulations, Timberwolves fans. You have a playoff race.
Well, not exactly a race. More of a lurch, an attempt to trip up a small flight of stairs and stick the landing.
The Wolves haven’t made the playoffs since 2004, which is also the only season in which they have won a playoff series. Despite their typically horrid record, they are three games out of the eighth seed in the West.
The Timberwolves could play meaningful games in April. This is progress.
Target Center remains underpopulated during Wolves games. The franchise has sold hope for so many years it may need a playoff series to reignite interest. For all of the losing for all of these years, a playoff series might not be far off.
Longtime Wolves employees mull the possible curses that have befallen the franchise. With reason.
Thursday night, Crunch, the team mascot, rode a sled down an aisle and slammed into a patron, who had to wear an ice bag on his knee in the second half.
The patron: Karl Towns, Karl-Anthony’s father.
Strange things happen in Timberwolvesland, so expressing optimism about the franchise is always risky.
I’ll go back to what I believed in October: Thibodeau’s relentless expertise and three 21-year-old wunderkinds should produce the most sustainable success in Timberwolves history.
As long as Thibs’ voice survives, and Crunch’s sled doesn’t ram into the wrong Towns.