There’s a cliché in sports that things are never as bad as they seem, but they’re also not as good as they look.

That could ring true on both sides for the Timberwolves, who are still in contention for a playoff spot after a tough start. You read that correctly. With a top-notch coach taking over, the Timberwolves got off to a horrid 1-5 start. Defense, Tom Thibodeau’s calling card, was largely the culprit.

Minnesota was letting big leads slip away, losing to teams they should beat and not able to recover from terrible third quarters. After 19 games, the Timberwolves were 5-14. The season was slipping away quickly postseason thoughts were being put to bed. It’s another rebuild project, again.

But, the tide seems to be changing. The Timberwolves have won five of their last seven and after beating the Denver Nuggets Sunday night, they’re just 2.5 games out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Here are four reasons why we shouldn’t put the Timberwolves’ playoff hopes to bed… yet.

Timberwolves Have Won 5 Of 7

Don’t give up on the Timberwolves and the postseason just yet. With the team at a bit of a crossroads at 11-26 and staring at yet another potentially miserable season, they put some things together and have won five of their last seven games. That includes Sunday night’s 111-108 win over the Denver Nuggets. The Nuggets currently hold the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference at 18-25. With the win, Minnesota improved to 16-28.

Three of their next four games are against teams unlikely to make the playoffs in Phoenix, Brooklyn and Orlando. They also host the Indiana Pacers, who are right around .500. The reality is that even though this hasn’t been the prettiest season, it’s extremely far from over and there is still a very real chance the Timberwolves can make the playoffs.

Guard Play Getting Better

It’s not a coincidence that the Timberwolves are playing better and winning more games as their guard play improves. Only, it’s largely happening without Ricky Rubio. He’s been the subject of recent trade rumors with the deadline a month away, and the more Kris Dunn and Tyus Jones see the floor, the less likely it is that Rubio remains with the Timberwolves.

Jones was a key piece in the Timberwolves’ 104-101 win over the L.A. Clippers last Thursday. He was smooth running the offense, wasn’t afraid to take big shots when he was open and got Karl-Anthony Towns easy baskets in the fourth quarter. Kris Dunn was instrumental in Sunday’s win over Denver with 10 points, nine assists and eight rebounds. The duo played together for much of the fourth quarter, and the move by Thibodeau paid off.

Towns Emerging As Timberwolves Star

It’s no secret that Karl-Anthony Towns is an emerging star in the NBA. He was a unanimous choice for the league’s Rookie of the Year last season, and he’s done nothing but back it up this year. Towns had 32 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists in Sunday night’s win. He had 37 points and 12 rebounds in the win over the Clippers last week. He’s leading the Timberwolves with 22.5 points per game on the season.

But it’s the efficiency with how he scores that makes it so impressive. He rarely takes a bad shot, and he’s a rare 7-footer that can create his own shot whether it’s on the post or off the dribble. To make it even more unfair for opponents, he can score from the perimeter. If they’re going to be a playoff team this year, Towns will carry them there and he’s not afraid to be the guy. He embraces it.

(credit: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

(credit: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Defense Has Improved Since Rough Start

The Timberwolves got off to a terrible start this year, and it was largely because they didn’t play any defense. Opponents got whatever shot they wanted at any time in any situation. That’s how the Timberwolves could never feel safe with a big lead. There was little communication, and that leads to wide open shots. Not surprisingly, the defensive intensity has picked up in recent games, and it has led to victories. The Timberwolves trailed by 12 at one point in the fourth quarter Sunday night before coming back to win. They also clamped down against the Clippers.

Thibodeau is known for his defensive schemes, so the players have to continue to trust his approach. They have to talk on the defensive end and trust each other. There is still plenty of room for improvement, but their recent stretch indicates that they’re starting to figure it out.

Don’t close the books on a playoff appearance just yet. The season is only half old, and the Timberwolves are knocking on the door for the No. 8 spot. They haven’t been a playoff team since 2004, and fans are hungry to end what is currently a 12-year absence.

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