This Ant’s Got High Hopes

It’s been an awful long time since this Frank Sinatra tune was popular and relevant:

Just what makes that little old ant
Think he’ll move that rubber tree plant
Anyone knows an ant, can’t
Move a rubber tree plant

Almost as long as there has been a championship team (at least among men’s professional sports) in the state of Minnesota.

It’s been 33 years since Gene Larkin’s pinch-hit walk-off single gave the Twins their second World Series title in five years.  And it’s been absolutely never since the NFL Vikings, NHL Wild (as well as their predescessor North Stars–that franchise’s sole Stanley Cup was in Dallas) and NBA Timberwolves won a title of their own.  And the T-Wolves haven’t even made a Finals, winning only two playoff series in their 35-season existence, both occurring exactly two decades ago.

But it sure seems like that’s about to change, along with the power structure of the NBA itself.  We’re not merely seeing the emergence of the T-Wolves as a title threat; we’re seeing the elevation of its now-questioned leader Anthony Edwards, aka “Ant-Man”, as one of the most dominant forces in the game.

The Wolves are not merely beating the defending champion Denver Nuggets, they are outright dominating them, and on their home court no less.  NBC Sports summed up the most recent reinforcement of this in the story of last night’s Game 2 of their Western Conference semifinal series:

All season long the movie was the same: Denver seemed apathetic and played just well enough to keep things close for three — maybe even three-and-a-half — quarters, then they would flip the switch, lean into the Jamal Murray/Nikola Jokic two-man game and pull away late for the win. There was nothing opponents could do to stop them.  Minnesota has stopped them.  More than that, the Timberwolves have shook the Nuggets.

Edwards’ play both last night and in Minnesota’s less overwhelming seven-point victory in Game 1 has been eye-opening and has shifted the narrative of many observers.  During last night’s INSIDE THE NBA postgame show on TNT, per FOR THE WIN:

Charles Barkley called the series a wrap. “The Minnesota Timberwolves are for real. They’re gonna sweep the Denver Nuggets. Period.”

And per SB NATION’s Joseph Acosta:

Edwards’ teammate Mike Conley spoke on TNT about Edwards and how he sees his game:

For his part, Edwards is at least trying to deflect the growing narrative; as Acosta also shared,  he told Fox Sports that he wants the comparisons to end“I want it to stop,” the 22-year-old Edwards told FOX Sports. “He’s the greatest of all time. I can’t be compared to him.”
But it’s hard not to understand why the likes of Conley, a 17-season veteran of Memphis, Utah and Minnesota who has had about as much overall playoff success as the Timberwoves, are so giddy.  Edwards’s play is elevating Conley’s game and those of his other teammates.  As NBC Sports explained:
Two games into the Western Conference second-round series, Minnesota’s defense has rattled the Denver offense — and they did it Monday night without Rudy Gobert, who missed the game following the birth of his son earlier that morning. The Nuggets shot just 34.9% overall, 9-of-30 from 3 (30%) and grew increasingly frustrated as the game wore on, to the point Jamal Murray threw a heat pack on the floor during live play.
The oft-injured and once-heralded leader of the T-Wolves franchise Karl-Anthony Towns shared game high point honors with Edwards last night, pouring in 27 of his own.  Role players like Jaden McDaniels and newly crowned Sixth Man of the Year Naz Reid are showing a far larger audience their own considerable skill sets in a defense so crushing as to send three-time MVP Nikola Jokic into conniptions.
And now the Wolves head home with a commanding lead over the reeling defending champs, with a rabid and ravenous fan base ready to cheer them on as they deserve, Edwards’ modesty notwithstanding.
Because, as a slightly newer classic hit reminds, while Edwards may be conquering rubber tree plants, his fans are  lost in a crowd…And I’m hungry like the wolf.
(D)o-do-do-do-do-do-do-do-do-doobie-doobie-doo.
Courage…

 

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