MINNEAPOLIS – A harsh reality has descended upon Minnesota: The Timberwolves, unless they somehow win every single one of their last 20 games, are not making the playoffs. (And even if they did somehow pull off that Heat-esque feat, which again, I emphasize, they will not, they still might be in jeopardy of falling short.) Maybe if the eight contending teams in the West were decimated by bubonic plague. Maybe if Dahntay Jones were to keep spraining superstars’ ankles at a maniacal pace. But none of those things is going to happen, and that’s probably for the best.
So what’s a poor, cold, disappointed Minnesotan to do? In lieu of wallowing or ice fishing too deep into the “spring”, I will suggest this: Jump on a bandwagon. There’s no reason to miss out on the best basketball of the season just because the players you love turned out to be the most injured bunch in recent NBA history. Playoffs are fun. You might as well take part, buy a new T-shirt, flip on your cable.
So now, a few suggestions as to which bandwagons might be ripe for the jumping:
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Pros: Kevin McHale is their coach. Sure, y’all boo him when he shows up back here, but he’s one of yours. Sure, he left for Boston and now Houston, but he’s one of yours. Sure, he’s getting his first successful team since the Kevin Garnett days, and you’re stuck waiting, still, but he’s one of yours. Okay, and if you still can’t manage to find it in your heart to forgive McHale, how about James Harden? How about the fact that the Rockets were supposed to be the chum of the West until they acquired him from the Thunder just days before the start of the season? How about the fact that at summer league in Las Vegas, I heard more complaining about “what on earth Daryl Morey could possibly be thinking” than any other story line? Everyone loves an underdog story.
Cons: They’re going to be a six, seven or eight seed. That’s an almost surefire matchup with the Spurs, Thunder, Grizzlies or Clippers. If I’m Houston, I want to face the Spurs, but I really can’t see that happening, and so the first-round looks a lot like a loss. If you’re hoping to stick out the playoffs into June and think two heartbreaks – the Timberwolves and Rockets – might be too much, this isn’t the team for you.
Pros: They’re a small-market, underdog team. Center Marc Gasol and Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio are buddies from their time in Spain. Coach Lionel Hollins’ son plays for the Gophers. The Mississippi River flows through their city, too. And beyond all those rather arbitrary reasons, this is a fun team that will likely go far. They may not finish as one of the three best teams in the West in the standings, but I think they are. Their owners are shrewd, and they built a better team by dumping an albatross of a contract. There’s something hardworking and blue-collar about the Grizzlies, and those are never bad qualities to embrace.
Cons: I don’t see them winning the title. I just don’t. I also don’t see them beating the Thunder or the Clippers if it comes to that – which it likely will – to get to The Finals. For a team this talented, that’s a disappointment.
Pros: This is the team for everyone who still wears his or her Garnett jersey to Timberwolves games, and the older they get, the more likeable I find these Celtics. There’s something magnetic about teams like them and the Spurs, teams that every year people say is their last to contend and then somehow they keep playing well. Maybe I’m a sucker for cranky old people who refuse to admit they’re getting old. Plus, the Celtics this year did something the Timberwolves could not do last year: They’ve rebounded from an ACL tear, theirs to point guard Rajon Rondo. So maybe instead of getting jealous, you can just jump aboard and catch the end of what might be Garnett’s last solid season. (I’m obligated to predict that so that he and the rest of his team can prove me wrong.)
Cons: Kevin Garnett left Minnesota. And plays for them. Traitor. I know I’m not convincing anyone who holds that train of thought, so let’s move on. This team is going to make the playoffs, but it doesn’t really have the depth to do much, it seems. Plus it’s Boston, and I’m fairly certain that by virtue of being from the Midwest, one is morally obligated to hate Boston sports with as much vehemence as one hates New York sports. Maybe that’s just the bitter St. Louis fan from 2004 in me talking, but I’m pretty sure that’s actually a thing.
Pros: They’re still kind of adorable, and look what they’re doing without Harden, and GM Sam Presti is a genius, and coach Scott Brooks played in Minnesota. Plus, I kind of want them to get their title before said adorableness wears off, and they have a legitimate chance this season, just as they did last year. Jumping on this bandwagon will likely be for a longer run, probably into June, and odds are at some point, if you have a soul, you will end up cheering for them when they go up against the Heat.
Cons: It’s too easy of a choice. Everyone jumps on the Thunder bandwagon at some point. This is not a pick for the contrarians.
Pros: LeBron. They’ve won 20 straight. They may win every game for the rest of the regular season. I wouldn’t put it past them. They’re virtually guaranteed a trip to The Finals unless Roy Hibbert is bestowed with superpowers at some point in the next few weeks – have you seen the Knicks lately? – and they’ll probably win it all.
Cons: You sacrifice your claim to having a soul. Even if you say you are just a huuuuge LeBron fan because he’s the best player ever. That’s not a good enough excuse. Soul, rescinded.