On the day that his $224 million extension became official, Karl-Anthony Towns declared a "championship or bust" urgency for the Timberwolves in the aftermath of a blockbuster trade for Rudy Gobert.

"I'm not trying to sugarcoat," Towns said that July 2022 day. "Let's be real. The standards are high. The pressure is high."

Those words have never felt more relevant than they do right now at the conclusion of the second-most successful regular season in the franchise's 35-year history. The march to 56 victories entering Sunday's finale has been an awakening that has stoked the fire of a fan base deserving of something nice after enduring more than its fair share of nonsense.

Entering the playoffs with a high seed in the West is but one step. An important step, mind you. But it leaves you craving more. Expecting more.

Towns' "championship or bust" pronouncement served as an acknowledgment of the window that exists for a team filled with high-end talent and top-dollar contracts. Tim Connelly's vision as roster architect was never intended to be a slow build. The Gobert trade, Towns' extension and ushering Anthony Edwards to superstardom are the equivalent of a gambler pushing his chips all in.

This is the Wolves' opportunity to prove Connelly's instincts right, to show that they are indeed a serious team — and that a highly successful regular season is a precursor to a deep playoff run and not just a tease.

The previous two seasons ended with coach Chris Finch bemoaning his team's lack of maturity. This is their moment to reveal how much they've grown up. They have conducted business on the court in a much more professional way to this point.

The Western Conference playoffs will be a beast. Five teams have 50-plus wins. All 10 teams in the postseason won at least 45 games. Steph Curry and LeBron James could be waiting on the other side of the play-in tournament. There is no easy path for any team.

Expressing optimism with the Wolves tends to leave one with indigestion and regret, but there are multiple reasons to believe in this particular team.

As formidable as the West is, the Wolves own the best intraconference record at 37-14.

The roster features one of the NBA's best players (Edwards), its best defensive player (Gobert) and its best sixth man (Naz Reid). The complementary pieces provide depth and versatility — seven different players have scored 20 points more than once this season.

And now the Wolves will be at full strength again with Towns' return from knee surgery. This is major news. Towns' reintegration should be more seamless than it would have been earlier in his career when he was the fulcrum of everything.

Edwards has assumed the role of conductor, and the attention he commands from defenses should open things up for Towns' perimeter shooting. And vice versa. Edwards will benefit as much as anyone from Towns' presence on the court.

Edwards' ascension this season gives the Wolves a closer in crunch time. The playoffs can define a player's status as a superstar. Edwards has a hunger for that and is capable of burying an opponent when he gets that look in his eyes. Playoff pressure won't affect him.

The Wolves also can rely on their defensive foundation. Gobert's brilliance as a disruptive defender has elevated the entire unit. The Wolves lead the NBA in defensive rating and opponent field-goal percentage. Their commitment to putting a squeeze on opponents should serve them well in the postseason.

A year ago, the Wolves entered the playoffs in chaos. Gobert threw a punch at teammate Kyle Anderson in the regular-season finale, leading to a one-game suspension. Jaden McDaniels threw a punch at a wall in a fit of anger, resulting in a broken hand.

That was not a focused group ready to win in the playoffs.

Everything about the current team feels different. The Wolves' maturity has been on display all season. They have no injuries and no distractions — and please don't cite the ownership feud that has spilled into public view. Players don't spend one second worrying about that situation.

The Wolves grabbed the NBA's attention by being one of the best teams this season. They earned respect in league circles and created excitement and interest in this sports market. They determine where it goes from here.