Road stretch could prove to be now or never for Wolves

MINNEAPOLIS – The Minnesota Timberwolves’ woes on the road so far this season have been well documented. They’ve got the second-worst winning percentage on the road of any NBA team this season, trailing only Atlanta in that category. As they head out on this trip, they haven’t yet won a road game against a Western Conference team as the calendar is nearing January.

This upcoming trip for the team could be a ‘do or die’ type trip. The Wolves sit in 14th place in the Western Conference prior to taking the floor in San Antonio as a stretch of six of the next seven games on the road begins. Minnesota may only sit 2.5 games behind the eighth-place Spurs, but the problem is that there’s five teams between the two franchises.

If the Wolves don’t figure out how to be competitive on the road – and quickly – they’re going to find themselves racing towards a lottery selection in next June’s NBA Draft and a likely regime change at the top. This stretch not only includes six of seven games away from Target Center, but only two of those games come against teams that don’t have playoff aspirations.

In theory, when the Hawks visit town for the only home game between the present and 2019, it should be an easy victory. As previously stated, Atlanta is the only team in the NBA worse than Minnesota on the road. It’s never safe to assume results in the NBA, but that one should be a win for the Wolves.

Outside of that, the rest of this stretch looks rather daunting for Minnesota. The six road games are in San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Chicago, Miami, New Orleans, and finally Boston. In that group only the Bulls are currently tanking. Miami hasn’t been great this year, but they’re not actively trying to lose games the way others are.

San Antonio is trying to keep a playoff streak that started in the spring of 1998, the Thunder have been one of the NBA’s best teams this season, the Pelicans have underachieved this season despite having one of the NBA’s best players in Anthony Davis, and Boston is a team that’s started to find its stride after a bit of a slow start.

What may be the most maddening thing for Minnesota about this is that there’s no concrete explanation as to why they’re simply unable to win away from home. It’s worth noting that only a third of the league is currently .500 of better away from their home arenas, but few competitive teams are nearly as bad as the Wolves.

Finding a way to reverse fortune on the road is a must if this season is salvageable.

“We have to get these next few, just because we don’t want to fall out that race,” Robert Covington said after the loss to Detroit. “We’ve just got to refocus and lock in.”

If it’s focus, or routine, or something else, the Wolves need to figure it out before it’s too late. If that time hasn’t already come. This season was supposed to be one seen as the next step for a team that made the playoffs for the first time in over a decade last season. Instead it’s been anything but that. The case can be made that things can change for the better, but it becomes late in the season fast. The Wolves are already over a third of the way through the schedule.

It’s that, paired with the road woes, that make the loss to Detroit on Wednesday night one that they couldn’t afford to drop. After that game that locker room, along with the postgame Q & A with coach Tom Thibodeau, was very somber. The Wolves knew they let a opportunity inexplicably slip through their collective fingers.

“Just get ready for the next one,” Thibodeau said after that loss. “It’s going to be challenging. That’s the challenge of this league. Obviously to win on the road you have to bring toughness.”

Unfortunately for the Wolves, they haven’t shown that toughness away from Target Center, and at this point, it’s now or never.