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Challenging portion of Timberwolves’ schedule was supposed to reveal team’s identity. Is it inconsistency?

Monday night’s game against the Clippers in Los Angeles marked the end of the most difficult portion of the schedule, yet there still seems to be much to learn.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Los Angeles Lakers
Minnesota Timberwolves forward Jaden McDaniels (3) blocks a shot against Los Angeles Lakers guard Russell Westbrook (0) during the second half Sunday, Jan. 2, 2022, at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles.
Gary A. Vasquez / USA Today Sports
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It was going to be part of the schedule that revealed exactly who the Timberwolves were. Minnesota embarked on a 20-game stretch that featured nothing but playoff, or play-in, contenders and spanned from late November to early January.

Those 20 games would teach everyone a lot about this team.

Well, Monday night’s game against the Clippers in Los Angeles marked the end of the most difficult portion of the schedule, yet there still seems to be much to learn. Because while the Timberwolves went just 8-11 through the first 19 games of that stretch, that comes with an asterisk after the roster was decimated by COVID-19.

Ahead of the Clippers game, the Timberwolves had lost five of their previous six games playing with a virus-ravaged roster. Before that, with the team at or near full strength, Minnesota had a four-game winning streak that came directly off the heels of a five-game losing streak.

Where does the truth of the 2021-22 Timberwolves lie? Maybe somewhere in between?

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In totality over the past 19 games, the Wolves were 23rd in offensive efficiency and 19th in defensive efficiency. And while you might assume those numbers have been drastically influenced by the last five games Minnesota has played without Karl-Anthony Towns, the Wolves are a comparable 26th in offense and 20th in defense over their past five contests.

Timberwolves coach Chris Finch lamented the team’s lack of consistency after Sunday’s loss to the Lakers, noting a guy like Jaden McDaniels can be great against Utah, then struggle against the Lakers. Naz Reid can struggle against the Jazz, then light the Lakers up. Aside from Towns, the only consistency across the Wolves’ roster is their inconsistency.

That’s how you end up with the types of massive swings the Wolves have endured this season, with long winning streaks and losing streaks coming and going like the wind, without any advance notice.

Perhaps that’s what has been gleaned from this challenging stretch. While the ups and downs suggest the Wolves are difficult to figure out, perhaps the answer is staring everyone in the face. Perhaps that very lack of consistency is what will define this still relatively young group.

It’s still early enough in the season that a label doesn’t yet have to be placed upon this team, but nearly halfway through the season, the results suggest the Timberwolves will look great at some points, and not-so-much at others. Stretches of brilliance are continuously counter-acted by futility.

That’s often what separates the elite teams from everyone else, and could be exactly what Minnesota needs to improve on down the line to make another significant jump as a franchise.

Because, as the adage goes, you are what your record says you are. And right now, Minnesota is a sub-.500 team.

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