It is actually harder to the miss the playoffs in the NBA than it is to reach them. With 30 teams, 16 teams make the post season and 14 qualify for the NBA Lottery. Twelve years in a row now the Timberwolves have been on the outside counting lottery balls and hoping to win the lottery, which they did last year.
Karl Anthony Towns, the NBA’s number-one pick, was the unanimous KIA NBA Rookie of the Year. He played in all 82 games for the Timberwolves and averaged 18 points with 10.7 rebounds and blocked 1.7 shots per game. He helped the Timberwolves win four of their last five games, including an overtime win over the greatest team in NBA history, the 73-win defending NBA Champion Golden State Warriors.
The Warriors are in the Western Conference Finals again, back-to-back years for the first time since 1974-75 and 1975-76. Golden State will play Oklahoma City in a best-of-seven and holds the home-court advantage.
The Warriors are led by unanimous NBA League MVP Stephen Curry, the NBA’s first player to achieve the feat. He averaged 30 points a game and led the league in steals while making an NBA-record 402 three-point shots.
Oklahoma City won a controversial 4-2 Western Conference Semi-Final series over the favored 67-win San Antonio Spurs. It was probably the worst-officiated playoff series in league history. Two games were directly determined by obvious missed calls by game officials late in one-point games, and the NBA admitted it. The Warriors swept the regular season series from the Thunder, winning all three games.
In the East, the undefeated 8-0 Cleveland Cavaliers are led by four-time NBA MVP LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and former Timberwolves star Kevin Love. The Toronto Raptors are coached by Dwane Casey, the ex-Timberwolves head coach who was fired by owner Glen Taylor when the Timberwolves were last, a .500 team — they were 20-20 in 2004-05 when he was fired.
The Raptors have an All-Star back court with Kyle Lowry and DeMarr DeRozen. They were number two in the East; the Cavaliers were number one.
Cleveland appears to be on a mission. Last year they lost the NBA Finals to Golden State four games to two. That team did not have Love — he was hurt — or point guard Kyrie Irving. The Raptors have survived injuries and won two tough seven-game series over Indiana and Miami, while the Cavaliers swept both opponents Detroit and Atlanta 4-0.
The Warriors, with back-to-back MVP Curry back from a knee injury, are 8-2 in the playoffs after 4-1 series wins over Houston and Portland. Cleveland is peaking at 8-0. The Thunder are 8-3 and Toronto is 8-6. This is it, as they say — four really good teams in pursuit of NBA Glory.
James has two titles, both while with Miami, but he left South Beach to try and bring the title back home to Cleveland. The Cavaliers have never won it. Neither has Toronto or Oklahoma City.
When the Thunder franchise was in Seattle, they won as the Super Sonics. This is the fourth trip by the Thunder to the Western Conference Finals. Whoever survives, I will cover the NBA Finals again and look forward to it. It looks like a rematch to me — Warriors vs. Cavaliers again. We’ll see.
Four years in a row the Minnesota Wild have reached the Stanley Cup playoffs, and tickets are very tough to get at Xcel Center — 19,000 occupied seats with standing-room only has been the attendance for virtually all 41 home dates. The Vikings, Twins, Timberwolves, and Gophers would love to have the Wild’s problems, a great home venue and incredible fan support in the state of hockey.
Yet no Stanley Cups, and that frustration is what has led to the organization hiring their third coach since January. First Mike Yeo was fired in his fifth season when the team hit a losing skid mid-season. Then the Wild hired as interim coach John Touchetti and the team was eliminated four games to two in the first round by Dallas.
Bruce Boudreau is now the new leader of the Wild. He’s experienced and wins a lot — 409 wins, 192 losses and 80 ties in nine years is impressive. So is a winning percentage of .659. The Wild have a good, deep roster and, like most teams, they have three or four players that are not producing consistently.
Boudreau is expected to take the Wild to the next level. He has won several Division titles and gets the most out of his players and teams. But can Boudreau squeeze the kind of sustained, consistent effort from this roster that will bring a Stanley Cup to Minnesota?
The NHL Draft is here, so the Wild should be able to add a couple of good young players to this roster. Or, will the Wild try and shake up this current roster to get more players to fit the up-the-ice attacking system Boudreau prefers?
Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm, and at www.Gamedaygold.com. He also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2). Follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.
Last year the Twins had their best season in several years, finishing 83-79 for first-year manager Paul Molitor. Expectations for 2016 were heighten that the team could return to the American League playoffs in a tough-balanced American League Central.
Kansas City not only won the division last year, they captured their first World Series Championship in 30 years. Major League Baseball plays 162 games — the season is a marathon, not a sprint. Last year the Twins started slowly and rallied in May. This year’s team does not have veteran Torii Hunter and his invaluable and incredible leadership and talents in that clubhouse.
For the most part, the Twins have failed to do the little things and they are adding up. The starting pitchers has been riddled with injury and inconsistency. Both starters Kyle Gibson and Irvin Santana are currently on the 15-day disabled list.
Glen Perkins, the Twins All-Star closer, is on the disabled list also. The Twins have been swept by Central Division teams Kansas City, Chicago, and Detroit already, and they are just 1-10 away from Target Field. The 7-18 start has many Twins fans trying to figure out who these guys are. Yes, it’s just early May, and there’s a long way to go. However, the Twins, in a balanced competitive division, are getting way behind.
This week the Twins are headed back out on the road to Houston and Chicago — where they have been getting killed — and need to start turning their season around. In a strong-balanced division home of the World Series Champions, the Twins have got to start fighting a little harder.
With just seven wins so far, it speaks to their struggles. Chris Sale, the Chicago White Sox ace, is 6-0; he’s the first pitcher in MLB to start 6-0 since Hall of Famer Randy Johnson. Veteran third baseman, Trevor Plouffe, is also on the disabled list, and center fielder Byron Buxton was such a disappointment in centerfield with his inability to put the ball in play and striking out, the Twins sent him back to the minor leagues.
For the Twins, it’s been a frustrating combination of things: failing to do the little things consistently, missing a cutoff, not getting a bunt down, and being thrown out on the bases. Or simply not getting a timely hit. It’s no secret the Twins have got to play much better.