The Western Conference has been a bloodbath this NBA season. Even with there being teams in the midst of a rebuild, the West has been super competitive, leading to various changes in the standings every single night there are games being played. However, one team that has not had to worry about their positioning has been the Minnesota Timberwolves, given that they have sat at the top of the West all year. Still finding themselves in the No. 1 spot, the Timberwolves have been one of the best teams in either conference all season due to their All-Star duo of Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns.

These two, along with Defensive Player of the Year candidate Rudy Gobert, have helped set the foundation for what has been a tough-minded Timberwolves squad. Just over a month before the playoffs are set to begin, Minnesota's only goal is to claim the top spot in the conference in order to guarantee that the playoffs go through them. Unfortunately, the Timberwolves were dealt devastating news on Thursday morning, which could ultimately put the dagger in their season before they even get the chance to prove who they are in the postseason.

Towns, who has dealt with major injury concerns through the years for Minnesota, was diagnosed with a meniscus tear in his left knee and is going to be sidelined indefinitely. At 43-19 on the season, the Timberwolves will now be without their star big man for the remainder of the regular season. Whether or not Towns undergoes surgery will be the deciding factor as to whether he has any shot of returning to the court in some capacity should the Timberwolves advance deep into the playoffs.

With only 20 games remaining on their schedule ahead of Thursday night's game against the Indiana Pacers, it's safe to say that the Timberwolves will be in the playoffs. Without Towns, though, where this team finishes in the Western Conference standings is a major mystery. They are currently tied with the Oklahoma City Thunder, and the Denver Nuggets trail both teams for the top spot by just a single game.

What is interesting about the West this season is that the seeding will really matter due to certain matchups. This is especially true with championship threats like the Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors lurking in the play-in tournament region of the standings. Now that the Timberwolves have to deal with Towns' meniscus injury, the entire landscape of the Western Conference playoff picture has changed. How the Wolves look to cope with this injury to their star will not only impact their season at hand, but it will also play a role in determining which team from the West goes to the 2024 NBA Finals.

What's next for Timberwolves, Karl-Anthony Towns

Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) dribbles against the Portland Trail Blazers in the third quarter at Target Center.
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

First things first, it's worth mentioning that the Timberwolves have been one of the league's best teams this season because of how strong they are defensively. Gobert is their anchor underneath, Jaden McDaniels is their best overall defender in terms of guarding multiple positions, Edwards has emerged as a two-way threat, and Naz Reid is another reliable defender in the frontcourt. Although Towns' absence hurts this team a little bit on defense, his size and ability to help keep opponents out of the paint can be replicated by others on this roster.

Where Towns' injury comes into play is on offense, where the Wolves already have a fair amount of struggles outside of Edwards. Towns has averaged 22.1 points per game this season, second behind Edwards' 26.1 points per game average this season. The next highest-scoring player on Minnesota's roster behind Towns is Gobert, at 13.8 points per game. As a team, the Timberwolves rank just 17th in offensive rating and 19th in points per game this season.

Their identity has been built on the defensive side of the floor because of their length and size. Without Towns in the lineup, this group now severely lacks scoring production because of how Towns could create for himself as a big man. A 42.3 percent three-point shooter this season and someone who can get hot in a hurry, Towns not being available now puts the entire pressure of the franchise on Edwards' back. To make matters worse, opposing teams are now going to begin heavily double-teaming Edwards, forcing him to give the ball up late in games.

This means McDaniels, Gobert, Mike Conley Jr., and Naz Reid will need to step up and exceed their own offensive expectations. For a team sitting at the top of the Western Conference standings, this is definitely a major concern and a red flag just about a month from the playoffs.

So, where do the Timberwolves go from here?

In addition to having to really ramp things up defensively to remain at the top of the standings, the Timberwolves are also going to need to try to limit their overall possessions in games. Thursday night's game against the Pacers is going to be very telling as to how this team will look without Towns because Indiana is the best offensive team in the league. They look to play fast and push the tempo, something Minnesota won't be able to compete with because of their offensive lapses outside of Edwards.

By slowing things down and controlling the flow of the game, Minnesota will put themselves in a position to still maintain leverage over many teams in this league. Should they enter the playoffs without Towns, the Timberwolves will open the door for the other top teams in the Western Conference.

Thunder, Nuggets, Clippers given opportunity

Minnesota Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards (5) forces a turn over by Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) during the second quarter at Paycom Center.
Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

The greatest beneficiaries of Towns' injury are the Thunder, Nuggets, and Los Angeles Clippers. Over the last few weeks, the battle for the top spot in the Western Conference has been tight, especially since the Thunder and Nuggets have practically been tied with the Timberwolves in the standings.

Without Towns, Minnesota is very susceptible to dropping games late in the year due to their offensive concerns. Just three or four losses could be the difference between the Timberwolves going from the No. 1 spot to the No. 4 spot. While their attention is going to be cast on winning games whenever they can, the Timberwolves do need to factor in who their opponents are going to be moving forward come playoff time.

Do they want to risk running into either the Lakers or Warriors as the 1-seed in the conference, or would the Timberwolves actually prefer to play a smaller team like the New Orleans Pelicans in a potential 4-seed vs. 5-seed series? If Towns is shut down for the remainder of the season, perhaps claiming the top spot isn't in the best interest of this franchise.

That is where opportunity rises for teams like the Thunder, Nuggets, and Clippers. All three of these teams are still very much in the running for the 1-seed in the Western Conference, and where each team ends up in the standings directly impacts their chances of making a championship run.

Of course, there is no telling how great of an impact Towns' absence will have until we actually get to the playoffs and can reflect back on the month of March at large. One loss by the Timberwolves and one win by either of these teams could be the difference in different first round series in the playoffs. This is why Towns' injury is so impactful at this very moment in time, where the whole Western Conference has been unpredictable when looking at the standings.

It is not hard to believe that whoever claims home-court advantage throughout the playoffs in the West will ultimately win the conference pennant. For the Thunder, Nuggets, and Clippers, the path to claiming this top spot and pushing the Timberwolves aside has presented itself.