The Minnesota Timberwolves controlled their own destiny going into their matchup with the Kings on Friday. With a chance to clinch a Knockout Round berth, Minnesota suffered a crushing 124-111 loss to Sacramento. Now the Timberwolves face an uphill battle as they are on the outside looking in prior to their In-Season Tournament matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Let’s dive into everything Minnesota needs to have happen in order to advance to the Knockout Round of the inaugural NBA In-Season Tournament.
West Group C standings
Let’s start by taking a look at the standings.
NBA In-Season Tournament West standings update 🏆
– Pelicans sit atop West Group B
– Timberwolves, Suns, Warriors, and Rockets remain alive
— NBA (@NBA) November 25, 2023
The Kings now lead West Group C with a 3-0 record and an impressive +29 scoring margin. That scoring margin is super important for potential tie-breaker scenarios that we will later discuss. The Timberwolves and Golden State Warriors find themselves both with 2-1 records, although Golden State currently has a better aggregate with a +5 compared to Minnesota’s -3.
The Timberwolves’ home matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder now holds a ton of weight while the Kings host the Warriors on Tuesday as well. There are a wide variety of scenarios afoot depending on the results of these two games.
West Group C winner scenarios
The Kings would win West Group C by defeating the Warriors on Tuesday. With one team from each group earning an automatic bid into the Knockout Round, the Kings now control their own fate. In a “win and you’re in” situation, Sacramento is able to bypass any Minnesota heroics by defeating the Warriors. Now that might be a tougher task than it sounds. Sacramento is just 5-15 in its last 20 regular season meetings with Golden State and the Warriors even ended the Kings’ Cinderella season a year ago in the playoffs.
In the event that Golden State beats Sacramento, West Group C’s fate would rely on the outcome of the Wolves-Thunder game. If OKC beats Minnesota and Golden State beats Sacramento, the Warriors advance due to the head-to-head tie-breaker over Sacramento. However, things get trickier if Minnesota AND Golden State both win.
In this situation, the Kings, Warriors, and Timberwolves would find themselves in a three-team tie-breaker scenario where scoring differential matters. The Kings have a massive head start here with a +29. In order for the Warriors to advance past the Kings (in the event of a Wolves’ win), the Warriors would have to outscore Sacramento by at least 12 points so they would both have a +17 differential. The Warriors’ tiebreaker over the Kings would then rely on total points scored. The Warriors currently have a 2-point lead over Sacramento.
Minnesota’s pathway to winning West Group C is even more difficult. Not only must the Kings lose to the Warriors AND the Wolves must beat the Thunder, but the Wolves likely have to win by a lot. In order to overcome that +17 differential (most ideal situation for Minnesota — could be a higher differential if Kings lose by less than 12 points or if Warriors win by more than 12 points), Minnesota would have to beat Oklahoma City by a minimum of 21 points.
This isn’t an impossible task. Minnesota last faced OKC during their final Play-In Game last April. Minnesota won that game by 25 points and is 6-1 in their last seven regular season battles. OKC’s new weapon, Chet Holmgren, could be a massive swing factor in this game as he’s been electric for the Thunder so far in his rookie campaign.
As it currently sits, the Phoenix Suns appear to be a lock as the sole Western Conference wildcard representative. With a 3-1 record and a +34 differential, Devin Booker and the Suns are nearly impossible to topple out of their Knockout Round positioning.
The only possible pathway for Minnesota to supersede Phoenix is not a plausible outcome. If the Kings did hypothetically beat Golden State on Tuesday, Minnesota’s only hope would be their own massive blowout win against OKC. The Wolves would need to outscore the Thunder by at least 38 points to pass up Phoenix for the single wildcard spot.
Minnesota has a total of six games in franchise history with +38 margin or better. The most recent example came on March 7, 2022, when Minnesota blew out the Portland Trail Blazers by 43 points. It is also worth noting that on March 4, 2022, Minnesota mustered a 37-point win over Oklahoma City.
Realistically, Minnesota cannot rely on a ginormous margin of victory to overtake Phoenix for their wildcard seeding. A Kings’ loss and big Minnesota win is the Timberwolves' best chance at advancing in the In-Season Tournament to the inaugural Knockout Round.