In the NBA, life doesn’t just come at you fast, it can come at warp speed.
The Timberwolves certainly have experienced that. They went from a promising playoff-bound team when Jimmy Butler arrived in the summer of 2017 to cleaning house in less than 24 months.
A lot of franchises would love to trade places with the Warriors — the Wolves’ opponent at Target Center on Friday — considering Golden State has reached the past five NBA Finals, winning three championships.
But even the Warriors are not immune to the cruel twists and turns of life in the NBA. Everybody goes through it sometimes. Now it is their turn, and the pace of attrition for the 2-6 Warriors is startling.
In a Game 5 victory in last year’s finals, the starting lineup was: Klay Thompson, Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala and Kevin Durant. None of those five will be on the court Friday.
To recap: Durant tore his Achilles in Game 5. Thompson tore his ACL in Game 6, when the Raptors clinched the title. Durant left in free agency, where the Warriors beat out the Wolves for the services of D’Angelo Russell, but the Warriors also said goodbye to a linchpin of the title runs in Iguodala.
The Warriors were blown out in their first two games, punctuated by Green describing their ineptitude with expletives, and looked like a shell of their former selves. This was before Curry broke his left hand, an injury expected to keep him out about three months.
Now they come to Minnesota hobbling even more — Green (torn ligament in index finger) and Russell (sprained ankle) missed Wednesday’s loss to the Rockets. Green already has been ruled out for Friday but Russell could play.
Before the Warriors most recent loss at Houston, where Golden State finished off a playoff series win in May, coach Steve Kerr acknowledged the dramatic turn of events.
“It is strange. We were in this building not too long ago with a huge game,” Kerr told reporters. “We’re entirely different. I don’t think we have a single player from that night that’s going to play tonight.”
But nobody is exactly feeling sorry for the Warriors. And the Wolves, a team that is still finding itself early in the season, aren’t circling Friday as an easy victory.
“It’s kind of weird, but everybody goes through their struggles,” Treveon Graham said.
“You have to take them for what they have. They’re a good team. We got to go out there and play our style of ball. If we play our style of ball, I’m confident that we will go out there and have a good game.”
If the Wolves do play their style and play it well, their side of the scoreboard may resemble a slot machine.
The Warriors are last in defensive efficiency at 118.7 points allowed per 100 possessions, and it’s not particularly close. That’s nearly full four points worse than the team in 29th place, the Pelicans. It’s over 11 points more than the Wolves, who were 17th entering Thursday.
It’s easy to conjure up images of the Warriors’ lights-out shooting, but defense was a major factor in Golden State’s five-year run. In 2014-15, the year the Warriors won their first title, their 100.4 defensive rating led the NBA.
“Things happen, and you know they’re going through a lot,” Wolves rookie Jarrett Culver said. “For us, we know they’re going to play hard. They got a lot of young guys on the court right now with Curry and other people out. It’s going to be a good matchup.”
Maybe, but there’s blowout potential, especially if Russell can’t play. The Wolves have lost two in a row, and come out of Wednesday’s game at Memphis needing to clean up transition defense which led to the Grizzlies shooting 57%. On the bright side for the Wolves, they have had three consecutive strong performances from Andrew Wiggins, who had 30 points Wednesday.
In the past three games, Wiggins has shot 28-for-58 from the floor, which looks even better when you consider Wiggins has shot 11-for-24 from three-point range.
He’s averaging 22.4 points per game, which is just off his career-high of 23.6 in 2016-2017.
“They just want me to be aggressive and keep playing the way I’m playing, so I’m going to keep doing that,” Wiggins said.
“Keep staying aggressive, attacking the rim.”
They Wolves may be able to do a lot of that against the depleted Warriors, but they are professing caution — as strange a sentiment as that is when it comes to Golden State.
“We’re Wolves. We have to go hunt every night we go out there with that jersey on,” center Karl-Anthony Towns said.
“That’s what we got to do. Regardless if it’s Golden State or anybody in this league. We got to go out there and we have to hunt together. As long as we stay together, we’re hunting together, we’ll be just fine.”