What to know, see and do as Timberwolves chase their first conference title

Fans celebrate
Fans celebrate as the Timberwolves win game seven during a watch party at Surly Brewing’s taproom in Minneapolis on Sunday.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

After devouring the Denver Nuggets in a nail-biter of a series, the Timberwolves have advanced to the Western Conference Finals — their first in 20 years — against the Dallas Mavericks.

If they win four games out of a maximum of seven, it will be their first-ever conference title. They would then battle the Boston Celtics or Indiana Pacers in the NBA Finals.

Minnesotans, who have come to expect mostly heartache from their professional sports teams, are kind of freaking out. There’s a lot of conversation to keep up with. So whether you’re a longtime fan wanting to revel in the fun, a newbie just jumping on the bandwagon or someone who’s merely hoping to survive office small talk, we’ve got you covered.

What’s up with the ‘Wolves Back’ and ‘Bring Ya Ass’ slogans?

You might have seen “Wolves Back” on T-shirts and in social media hashtags. It’s even shown up in a proclamation making May 22, 2024, Wolves Back Day in the state of Minnesota. So what exactly does the slogan mean?

Well, to be back you had to have fallen out of the limelight. And the Timberwolves did just that after their 2004 playoff run. But the slogan itself originates from none other than shooting guard Anthony Edwards (aka “Ant” and “Ant-Man”). He uttered it walking back to the locker room after a win during the 2021-2022 season.

Since then, fans and the team itself have picked it up as their mantra. Now it seems Gov. Tim Walz has, too, with “Wolves Back Day.”

And if you take a closer look at the governor’s proclamation, you’ll notice the first letter of each line spells out Edwards’ latest tagline: Bring ya ass!

That’s what Edwards told former NBA star and TNT analyst Charles Barkley when Barkley said he needed Minneapolis restaurant recommendations because he hadn’t been to town for 20 years. Many took it as a dig meant to highlight the team’s lackluster playoff record.

For fans who felt national outlets had largely ignored the Timberwolves leading up to the series, Edwards’ quip was pure gold. It took off almost immediately.

One fan bought and has it redirect visitors to the state’s tourism website. Many Minnesota institutions are getting in on the fun, too.

So what are the Timberwolves’ chances?

Better than you might think. 

The Wolves are ferocious defenders. In their four wins against Denver in the conference semifinals, they held the Nuggets to under 100 points. During the regular season, they were the NBA’s top defense.

The Wolves’ offense does sputter at times: It ranked 16th out of 30 teams during the regular season. But many analysts have made the Timberwolves their pick for winning the series. They beat the Mavericks three out of four games during the regular season with a powerhouse roster.

Timberwolves Nuggets Basketball
Minnesota Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards yells as time runs out in the second half of Game 7 of an NBA second-round playoff series against the Denver Nuggets on Sunday.
David Zalubowski | AP

The lovable and quotable Edwards is a star on offense and defense. He’s best-known for driving a path to the basket when there seemingly is none, and his gregarious nature keeps his teammates fired up and accountable.

The other starters are also top players in one way or another: guard Mike Conley is a key playmaker; center Rudy Gobert has been named the NBA’s defensive player of the year four times; forward Jaden McDaniels is lanky, quiet and fierce; and Karl-Anthony Towns (aka KAT) is a frequent All-Star who can sink three-pointers, grab rebounds, guard bigs and do all kinds of wonderful stuff when he stays out of foul trouble.

Why are people always talking so much about Naz Reid?

Wolves fans adore underdogs who come off the bench. Naz Reid just happens to be an underdog who comes off the bench and would start on most other teams. 

Plus, he has a really cool two-syllable name and can score a lot of points quickly. For at least a couple of years, fans have flooded comment sections of Timberwolves articles by simply writing, “Naz Reid.”

a man signs autographs to kids
Naz Reid of the Minnesota Timberwolves signs autographs before Game 1 of the playoffs between the Timberwolves and the Phoenix Suns at Target Center on April 20 in Minneapolis.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

Variations include, “NAZ REID.” and “Feliz Nazidad.” The greeting “Naz Reid” is an acknowledgement among fans of Reid’s greatness and one’s hope for a bright Timberwolves’ future.

This year, the greeting and mantra made it onto a giveaway beach towel that started showing up all over the place — other sporting events, graduations and photoshopped moments in history.

It’s also been inked permanently into skin at least 200 times after a tattoo artist jokingly offered to give $20 Naz Reid tattoos.

And we’re pretty sure Reid will be a popular muse for the State Fair’s crop art competition.

But it’s more than the name and the underdog story that has Minnesotans loving Reid. His solid playing won him the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award, which recognizes the best bench player in the league.

Why is A-Rod at all the games?

Former New York Yankee Alex Rodgriguez and Marc Lore, his business partner, are in an ownership battle with Glen Taylor, the team’s majority owner. It’s a long, complicated story, but the bottom line is Lore and Rodriguez made an offer, Taylor agreed, but Lore and Rodriguez missed the final payment (says Taylor) and, in recent months, there’s been finger pointing on both sides. 

a man crosses his arms
Minority owner Alex Rodriguez looks on during Game 1 of the playoffs at Target Center on April 20 in Minneapolis.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

OK, but I still feel self-conscious talking about the Timberwolves.

That’s totally understandable. There are a lot of people who didn’t realize the Timberwolves were that good this year and didn’t pay much attention. You don’t need to sound like a superfan to hold your own during a little sports-based small talk. 

Say you step into an elevator and the person next to you breaks the ice by saying, “How about those Wolves?” 

If it’s a short elevator ride, feel free to reply with, “Right? Who knew they were going to be so good this year. It’s been a long time.”

Timberwolves Nuggets Basketball
Minnesota Timberwolves center Naz Reid, center, drives to the basket past Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, right, as Minnesota center Rudy Gobert looks on in the second half of Game 7 of an NBA second-round playoff series on Sunday.
David Zalubowski | AP

If you want to be specific, say: “It’s been 20 years since the Wolves have won more than 50 games.” (During the 2003-2004 season, the Wolves were 58-24 and finished first in their division).

If you want to go a bit wonky on statistics, say: “Remember the three seasons between 2008 and 2010 when the Wolves won a total of 56 games? The team won that many this season alone.” 

If you freeze and can only manage a couple words, repeat after me: “Naz Reid.”