As Anthony Edwards prepares to begin FIBA World Cup play with Team USA, Rudy Gobert looks good with France in exhibition play and Karl-Anthony Towns has joined up with the Dominican Republic team, there has been some excitement brewing from Minnesota Timberwolves fans about the season that is just around the corner.
That intrigue, apparently, does not extend to the national networks. The Timberwolves unveiled their schedule for the 2023-24 season, and it includes just five games scheduled for ESPN or TNT. That is tied with Brooklyn and Atlanta for the fourth-fewest in the league, ahead of only Chicago (four), Utah (two) and a bunch of very young and/or rebuilding teams, including Orlando, Indiana, Houston and Detroit with just one.
4+ hours of cleanup for 4 minutes of content.
enjoy your 23-24 schedule release, Wolves fans. pic.twitter.com/e8qJhcovBd
— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) August 17, 2023
It should come as no surprise that the Wolves schedule isn’t teeming with prime-time games. They have long been overlooked by the networks, who are typically enamored by teams in snazzier markets or with more established stars. Minnesota is coming off a solid but unspectacular season that included a 42-40 record and a No. 8 seed in the Western Conference. Though the champion Denver Nuggets have said themselves that the Wolves gave them their toughest competition in the playoffs, Minnesota still bowed out in five games and was criticized for its acquisition of Gobert last summer.
Internally, the Wolves believe they will be much better in the upcoming season. A full year with Gobert, a healthy Towns and an ascending Edwards add up to a team that can be much more competitive than it was last season. But they are going to have to show it before the league’s biggest network partners take notice.
The Wolves do not play an ESPN or TNT game until a home game against rival Memphis on Jan. 18. That seems like an awful long time for the league’s main television partners to go before showcasing Edwards, one of the most promising young talents in the game. But the message is clear: It’s going to take more than two first-round exits in a row to get them to pay attention. Then again, the Pelicans (six) and Thunder (eight) have more scheduled appearances than Minnesota does, so who knows?
The Wolves also play on TNT against the Clippers on March 12. They have three games scheduled for ESPN: against Memphis on Feb. 28, against the Lakers on March 10 and at Denver on April 10. They also have five games on NBATV.
But, hey, look at the bright side, Wolves fans. I know there is a yearning for national respect, but the fewer games on national TV, the more opportunities you have to hear Michael Grady and Jim Petersen call the game for Bally Sports North. You can’t beat that team.
40 NBA games I’m looking forward to in 2023-24
Here are some other thoughts on the Wolves schedule:
Opening with a bang
The schedule-makers have the Wolves starting with five of their first seven games at home, but they start on the road in a place that has been historically difficult for them to play. Minnesota goes to Toronto to open the season Oct. 25. The Wolves are 17-37 all-time against the Raptors, the third-worst winning percentage (.315) of any opponent. They are 4-24 in Toronto.
After walking over those hot coals in the opener, the Wolves come home to open the Target Center portion of their season against an old nemesis. The Miami Heat will be in town for a Saturday night game Oct. 28, combining two of Wolves’ fans favorite nights into one — the home opener and Boo Jimmy Butler Night.
The question is, will Damian Lillard be there to have Butler’s back? No matter what happens in Toronto, that first Saturday night downtown should be rowdy.
Good news, bad news
This schedule has a bit of a roller-coaster feeling to it, with homestands (their seven-gamer from Feb. 23 to March 4 is the longest in franchise history) and long road trips (five that are at least four games long, including a six-gamer in the middle of March while the Big Ten basketball tournament is in town) all over the place.
The good news? As the Action Network’s Matt Moore points out, the Wolves have only four back-to-backs in the first half of the season, the fewest in the league. They also enjoy a league-high 11 rest advantage games in that span. That could be especially key for a team with so many players participating in the FIBA World Cup and Olympic qualifying tournaments overseas. Allowing Edwards, Gobert, Towns, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Kyle Anderson and Luka Garza, all of whom are playing in August and September, to have a little more rest early in the season should be helpful.
But from the All-Star break in late February to the end of the regular season, a 27-game sprint will feel a bit more like a fast-paced marathon. They have a league-high seven back-to-backs and the second-most rest disadvantage games. It will be a grueling stretch, made a little bit more manageable by the fact that 17 of those 27 games will be at home.
The schedule released Thursday includes only 80 of the 82 games. Two games will be added on the fly based on the results of the league’s inaugural In-Season Tournament. For those who need a refresher:
- The NBA Cup was instituted in an effort to bring more meaning and stakes to the early portion of the NBA schedule, which is often overshadowed by the NFL and college football. The season is so long that league stakeholders wanted to try something to motivate teams and players to bring some intensity and novelty to some regular-season games, a necessity in the era of load management to fight the stigma that the regular season does not matter.
- The league used a random draw based in part on records from last season to divide the 30 teams into six five-team groups. They will play four games against one another in November that were designated as tournament games. Those games will count toward regular-season records.
- The Timberwolves are in a group with Golden State, Sacramento, San Antonio and Oklahoma City. They will begin group play at San Antonio on Nov. 10, then visit Golden State on Nov. 14. They will host the Kings on Nov. 24 and complete group play with a home game against OKC on Nov. 28.
- The six teams with the best group records and two wild cards — one team from each conference that had the best group play record but finished second in its group — will advance to the knockout round. The quarterfinals will be played in select markets on Dec. 4-5, and the semifinals and championship will be played in Las Vegas on Dec. 7 and 9.
- The only game that will not count toward the regular-season record is the championship game.
There are doubters about this event, and I can see some of the reasons for it. But I’m in favor of anything designed to breathe some life into the regular-season product. I think the teams that arrive in Vegas, with the potential for each winning player to pocket $500,000, will play incredibly hard. That will be fun.
NBA in-season tournament schedule revealed
The Wolves come out of the All-Star break with seven straight home games, a chance to hit the ground running in the push for the playoffs. But then comes the monster: a six-game road trip that includes games in Indiana, Cleveland, Los Angeles for the Lakers and Clippers and wraps up with two in a row in Utah.
The Wolves could spend up to seven straight days in L.A. during that trip, depending on their travel preferences. A week of sun in the late stages of a long winter in Minnesota? That’s great, right? If you know anything about travel in the NBA, that may not be a good thing.
Games to watch
There are high-profile matchups that fans will look forward to, including the opener against Butler, dates with the Grizzlies and Nuggets (perhaps the two teams that have emerged as true Wolves rivals over the years) and visits from LeBron James and Steph Curry. But I combed through the schedule and picked out a few of the less obvious games that intrigue me.
- Nov. 8 vs. New Orleans: It’s the last game of four in a row at home. If things break right over the first six games of the season, the Wolves could have a very strong record going into a game against a team that figures to be fighting with them for Western Conference playoff positioning late in the season. A healthy Zion Williamson (a big if at this point), Brandon Ingram, Trey Murphy and more will be a huge early-season test.
- Dec. 14 at Dallas: Will Luka Dončić and Kyrie Irving have the Mavericks back in contention in the West? Will their defense doom them? Will Kyrie even be on the team? Anything can happen with the Mavericks this season. They are one of several teams that finished below the Wolves in the West last year but could challenge to finish above them this season (Utah, New Orleans and Oklahoma City will also be strong challengers). A road game will be a nice barometer for where the Wolves are and where the rest of the conference is at this point.
- Jan. 1 at New York: New Year’s Day at Madison Square Garden. What’s not to love? Well, maybe the 2 p.m. Eastern tip time. Historically, that’s not a good game for Edwards, who prefers to play at night. And if Josh Minott has earned a spot in the Wolves rotation by that point, his breakfast-hating palate will have to find something in one of the great food cities in the world to get him ready.
- Feb. 27 vs. San Antonio: Victor Wembanyama’s maiden voyage to Minnesota should be nice and cold for him.
- March 4 vs. Portland: The Trail Blazers? A must-watch? Lillard figures to be long gone by this point, but I want to see how the Wolves do against a team that should be in full tank mode. They famously struggled against bottom feeders last year, with the home loss to Portland in April one of the season’s low points. This should be a good indicator to show if the team has matured to handle the teams it should beat.
- April 14 vs. Phoenix: A 2:30 p.m. tip on the final day of the regular season against Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal in a game that could have major playoff seeding implications. Oh, baby. Can we start the season tomorrow?
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(Photo of Karl-Anthony Towns and Jimmy Butler: Hannah Foslien / Getty Images)