The Minnesota Timberwolves clung to the eighth spot in the Western Conference playoff race for longer than anybody could have ever predicted. It was after the All-Star break, Minnesota was sitting at 21-19, and the youthful team seemed to have every chance at a playoff appearance. Then, the Wolves saw their season get turned upside down. Ricky Rubio went down with an ACL injury, and the Wolves finished out the season 5-21.
Let's take a look at the "two seasons" of Minnesota's 2011-2012 campaign (before Rubio's injury, and after):
Minnesota's "first" season: 21-19.Fans should have known they would be in for something special when the Timberwolves opened their season with a close loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, one of the best teams in the NBA. After another close loss to the Milwaukee Bucks and a last-second loss to the Miami Heat, the Timberwolves delivered the first win of the Ricky Rubio era, a 17 point victory over the reigning NBA champion Dallas Mavericks. Wins against teams like the Los Angeles Clippers, San Antonio Spurs, Philadelphia Seventy-Sixers, and the Houston Rockets gave the rest of the NBA reason to fear the Wolves.
Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, and Derrick Williams all took part in All-Star weekend, with all three players earning highlight time on ESPN. The Wolves looked cohesive, like a team on the rise.
Minnesota's "second" season: 5-21. Ricky Rubio's presence for this young team was crucial, but his importance quickly became even more apparent as the Wolves started falling apart. Despite valiant efforts by Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic, the injury-riddled Wolves started dropping games and falling behind in the standings. Losses to New Orleans (twice), Golden State, and Sacramento were uncharacteristic of the "first season" team. Soon, injuries started catching up with the Wolves, and several players missed significant time, including Nikola Pekovic, Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, Luke Ridnour, Michael Beasley, and J.J. Barea.
Although there was nothing too serious, there were a few spats between players that were publicized. Kevin Love and J.J. Barea had words on the bench during a game, and Barea was critical of the team after a dismal performance in late April. The team seemed to lose cohesiveness, and it showed in their poor finish.
If Minnesota can regain its health, and get one or two more players to fill the holes on the roster, they will be a force to be reckoned with next year in the Western Conference. Timberwolves fans are hoping that the team carries over the success from the first half of this season, and forgets about their second half collapse.
Jack Grunpe is an avid Minnesota Timberwolves fan. Follow him on Twitter at @MNSportsWriter1.