The Timberwolves, on Sunday in Orlando, won a game in which they led by as many as 43 points, which was the equivalent of spotting a circus bear cruising down I-94 on a Harley.
For once, the Wolves swung the Whac-A-Mole mallet instead of being bopped on the head.
To which some fans stuck out their tongue and said, "Bah humbug!"
'Tis tanking season in the NBA, and the Wolves are refusing to play along.
Well, good. Forget that nonsense. Try to win games and run a professional operation. What a novel concept, eh?
The Wolves can further hurt their odds of securing a top-three draft pick by winning at Detroit on Tuesday. Foot on the gas, fellas.
The team enters the schedule's final week with competing forces creating a fitting dilemma for this cosmically strange season.
To complete last year's Andrew Wiggins-for-D'Angelo Russell trade, the Wolves have to give Golden State a first-round pick. It's "top-three protected" for 2021, meaning if in June the Wolves get one of the first three picks in the NBA lottery, they keep that pick and instead give the Warriors their 2022 draft position. If the Wolves end up with the fourth pick or worse in the June lottery, it goes to the Warriors this year.
For those hoping to land a high pick this summer, losing now is considered more beneficial than winning for an organization that has made losing an art form and become a laughingstock in the process.
With each win, this pro-tanking segment of Wolves fans grows increasingly exasperated. Oh, now you decide to win?! For the love of Cade Cunningham, what are you doing?!!
If the Wolves lose organically in this final week, so be it. If they decided to rest starters and lure Mark Madsen out of retirement to jack up three-pointers, then their entire drumbeat about establishing a winning culture would be a charade.
One of five teams lumped together in the standings just ahead of dead-last Houston, the Wolves at best have a 40% chance of keeping the pick if they finish with one of the three worst records. Not 90%, not 75%, not even a flip of a coin.
So even if they purposely lost games, they would have no better than 40% chance at landing a top three. The odds decrease if they finish outside the bottom three, to as low as around 28% with a couple more wins this week.
Rather than obsess over math percentages, try to appreciate a team trying to salvage something positive from a quagmire season. For an organization that wears embarrassment like cologne, winning gives validity to the notion that this new regime understands there is urgency to show signs of progress and wants to be taken seriously.
Winning matters because the whole objective of Gersson Rosas' master plan requires finding out if the main pieces fit together. The team president staked his reputation and his organization's future on the Russell trade, thus anything that sabotages or sacrifices every opportunity to watch Russell on the court with Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards would be counterproductive.
"You don't try to manipulate the game," Rosas told Michael Rand last week on the Star Tribune's "Daily Delivery" podcast. "That hurts the organization's character. It hurts players' motivation. Players are very sensitive and intelligent. If you're not trying to win in the NBA, players know that. And they lose credibility and trust in the organization, in leadership and in the mission of what you're trying to do."
Imagine telling Towns, after all the dysfunction that he has witnessed in his career, to take a seat so they can lose games with the hope — 40% hope at best — of getting a top draft pick.
Or try selling the idea of tanking to Edwards, the effervescent rookie who has brought the kind of competitive spirit and toughness that this organization desperately needs to escape the wilderness.
The clock is ticking here, which is exactly why Rosas fired Ryan Saunders during the season and then hired Chris Finch before sunup. The timeline seemed sneaky at the time, but the objective is clear now. The organization cannot waste any more time in trying to build a winner.
The Wolves were 7-29 at the All-Star break. They are 14-18 since. Not great, but there is undeniable progress being made now that the roster is largely intact, most notably the three cornerstones.
Rosas didn't want to wait until after the season to hire Finch and start fresh. In constructing a plan, he placed immediacy and winning over improving lottery odds.
He made the right call.