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After dealing with cupcakes, Timberwolves must devour the meat of their schedule

Minnesota’s next four games — starting Wednesday in New Orleans — are against the current top four seeds in the West.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Houston Rockets
Minnesota Timberwolves guard D'Angelo Russell, right, drives to the basket while Houston Rockets guard Jalen Green defends Monday, Jan. 23, 2023, in Houston.
Erik Williams / USA Today Sports
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ST. PAUL -- Minnesota coach Chris Finch lamented another inexcusable loss Monday in Houston after the Wolves dropped a contest to a Houston team that had lost 13 straight games and 18 of its past 19 entering the evening.

The Wolves now own six losses this season against the NBA’s bottom four teams — Houston, Charlotte, San Antonio and Detroit. The Pistons swept Minnesota in a two-week stretch within the past month.

For reference, that same Detroit team is in a current stretch of 14-plus quarters without holding a lead.

“We have the ability to beat anybody and we have the ability to lose to anybody, and that’s been on display all season,” Finch said. “That’s an immature trait.”

The losing part has plagued Minnesota. In a tightly-packed Western Conference, teams can’t afford to squander the gimmes. Had Minnesota won four of those six games it booted to cellar-dwellers, the Wolves would rest comfortably in the No. 4 seed at the moment, in position to possess home-court advantage in a first-round playoff series.

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Instead, they entered Tuesday’s NBA slate in ninth-place. primed for another play-in appearance. And it will be a challenge to hold the line on that position.

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A strong month of January has pushed Minnesota back toward the middle of the Wester Conference race
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New Orleans has now lost six straight games.
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The victory snapped Houston’s 13-game losing streak. Seven of those defeats had come by 15-plus points.
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Anthony Edwards and Nate Knight provided the necessary jolt for Minnesota to escape with a 113-104 victory.
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More than halfway through the season, that impact is beaming through
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The Wolves trailed by 14 points midway through the fourth quarter before D’Angelo Russell brought the team all the way back.
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After a slow start Monday, the guard scored 25 points in the second half.
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Center scores 20 points and grabs 21 rebounds in Utah’s 126-125 win.
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Minnesota's defense took a step forward Saturday against the Cavs and provided a roadmap for defensive success in the future
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Minnesota's bench contributed 56 points

Because the consequence for Minnesota not taking advantage of what has been a soft schedule is that the Timberwolves must now try to make up — or at least stand the current — amid a slate that features one heavyweight after another.

Finch’s theory that his team can indeed beat anybody — as evidenced by recent wins over Cleveland and Denver — needs to hold up in the upcoming weeks because Minnesota’s remaining schedule is the third-most challenging in the NBA by opponent record, according to Tankathon.com. It is the most challenging schedule of any Western Conference team.

Most of the cupcakes have been cleared off the table. The Timberwolves still have two games apiece against Denver, Brooklyn and Memphis, and still have four dates left with Sacramento, the current No. 3 seed in the West.

Minnesota’s next four games — starting Wednesday in New Orleans — are against the current top four seeds in the West. Ten of its next 11 contests are against teams currently within the top 10 of their respective conferences.

Only seven of the Timberwolves’ 33 remaining games are against opponents currently slated to miss the postseason entirely.

That slate is why statistical-based projection websites such as FiveThirtyEight currently have Minnesota missing the playoffs, with the Wolves finishing with 38 and 40 wins in the site’s two separate models.

FanDuel currently has the Timberwolves’ win total for the regular season set at 38.5 wins. A 38-44 mark would almost certainly miss the postseason altogether.

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That’s the hole Minnesota has put itself in via losses like the one it experienced Monday. Now, the Wolves will have to earn their success the hard way.

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Related Topics: MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES
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