It’s fun having both the Wild and Timberwolves in the playoffs at the same time for just the second time ever and first time since 2002-03. But now that both series are underway, with both teams trailing heavy favorites, you might be wondering: Does either team really have a chance to win and advance?
As such, let’s inject some doses of positive thinking — as well as a reality check — into each conversation. Here are three reasons to be optimistic about the Wild and Wolves, as well as three reasons to be pessimistic about their chances against the Jets and Rockets, respectively.
Current status: Down 2 games to 1 in best-of-7 series against Winnipeg, with Game 4 slated for 7 p.m. Tuesday at Xcel Energy Center (FSN and CNBC)
Reasons for optimism:
1) The Wild didn’t just win Game 3, it won convincingly. There is a difference, I think, between the 6-2 hurting the Wild put on Winnipeg on Sunday and, say, a 2-1 squeaker. Both count the same, but the feeling generated is different. In one game, the narrative changed from “the Wild looks totally overmatched” to “this series looks completely different now that Winnipeg is away from home.” The Wild now has confidence that it can score in bunches and should feel very good about the prospects of tying the series tonight.
2) The reverse side of things is how Winnipeg feels. One loss, even in a blowout, probably isn’t enough to shake the Jets’ confidence. But another one Tuesday, particularly if goalie Connor Hellebuyck struggles again? That would give the Wild a chance to create some panic or at least some uneasiness in what would essentially become a best-of-3 series.
3) There is precedent for the Wild coming back from a 2-1. In fact, of the four playoff series Minnesota was won in franchise history, the Wild was down 2-1 in three of them — and in all four the Wild was the lower seed.
Reasons for pessimism:
1) The Jets had a lot stacked against them in Game 3, including a weird travel situation created by the snowstorm. They arrived late, and it’s possible Game 3 was the outlier in the series.
2) Even in what looked like a lopsided loss, the Jets had chances. It was a 3-2 game before all heck broke loose, and Winnipeg still finished with more shots on goal than the Wild (31-29).
3) Even if the Wild wins Game 4, it will have to win a game in Winnipeg to take the series. These are two of the best home teams in the NHL, and the Jets still have two games left in Winnipeg — where the Wild is 0-4 this season counting the playoffs and has been outscored 18-8.
Current status: Down 1 game to 0 in best-of-7 series with Houston, with Game 2 slated for 8:30 p.m. Wednesday in Houston (FSN and TNT).
Reasons for optimism:
1 The Wolves held Houston in check from three-point range in Game 1, with the Rockets going 10 for 37 from long distance. That’s five fewer makes and five fewer attempts than the Rockets averaged during the regular season, and anything that decreases Houston’s efficiency creates a better path to victory.
2) The Wolves had a chance to win Game 1 even when they didn’t play their best. Houston definitely wasn’t at its best Sunday, but neither were the Wolves. Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns, in particular, struggled to both get involved and to have impact. And yet the Wolves held a slim lead in the fourth quarter and still had a shot to tie on their final possession. That could create confidence on their part and doubt on the part of the Rockets.
3) In the infamous words of Christian Ponder, some of the Wolves’ Game 1 miscues should be easily correctable. If they can make adjustments to exploit mismatches for Towns, their offense could get much-needed easy baskets and run more efficiently.
Reasons for pessimism:
1) Part of the reason Towns struggled is that Houston has a good game plan for him and is determined not to let him beat them by making three-pointers. It’s unclear yet whether Towns, playing in the playoffs for the first time, can make the Rockets pay.
2) Houston probably won’t miss that many three-pointers going forward in the series. Ryan Anderson missed Game 1 with a sprained ankle but could be back for Game 2. He shot 38.6 percent from three-point range to lead the Rockets in the regular season. Also, NBA.com shows that of the 37 three-point attempts by the Rockets on Sunday, 33 of them were either “open” or “wide open.” And players not named James Harden — guys who usually make threes at a 35-37 percent clip — connected on just 3 of 24 “open” or “wide open” threes. If the Wolves allow that many open looks in Game 2, the Rockets could very well blow them out.
3) This is still an 8-1 matchup for a reason, and Game 1 was the game the Wolves needed to win to have any chance of a competitive series. There are no moral victories in the playoffs, only real ones. The Wolves had a real chance to win Game 1, and as encouraging as that might seem it also should be viewed as a missed opportunity that put a big dent in any chance for an upset.