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Thunder vs. Timberwolves: Pregame Primer

Thunder vs. Timberwolves: Pregame Primer



Thunder (26-12, 9-7 road) vs. Timberwolves (12-26, 5-16 home)

TV: FSOklahoma
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 1300 AM The Buzz Tulsa)
Time: 7:00 PM CST

Team Comparisons (per NBA.com/Stats)

  • Offensive Rating: Thunder – 109.5 (2nd), Timberwolves – 100.2 (26th)
    Defensive Rating: Thunder – 101.0 (11th), Timberwolves – 104.2 (20th)

Two straight games where an opposing player has caught fire in the fourth quarter to either threaten the game (Lou Williams) or outright win the game (Damian Lillard). Two wing players that caught fire in the most crucial of times. Catching fire is not something that happens in an instant. It’s something that catches on with time. So then my question becomes: If a wing player starts to cook at the most critical time of the game, why isn’t your best perimeter defender on him?

It’s something that Thabo Sefolosha would usually relish. When the Thunder struggled with the pick and roll in the first two games of the 2012 Western Conference Finals, it was Sefolosha who stepped up to guard Tony Parker and negate his driving ability. And yet, in the most crucial time in two games, Andre Roberson is either not being asked to guard the right guy or not in the game at all.

Against the Lakers, Roberson was on the bench for all but 6 free throws of Williams’ 23 point scoring barrage in the fourth quarter. Against the Trailblazers, he was guarding Allen Crabbe for most of the quarter. If you trot out a one trick pony, then why aren’t you asking him to excel at his one trick? After the third three in a row dropped, Thunder head coach Billy Donovan should have switched Roberson onto Lillard. Not only is he a taller, longer defender, but he’s also able to slide under screens better than Westbrook. If the screener has to move up to set a better screen on Roberson, then that possibly pushes Lillard back a foot or so, and may disrupt his rhythm.

Series History

This is the first of four meetings between the Thunder and Timberwolves. In fact, these two teams will become very familiar with themselves as they meet three times in the next 15 days. The Thunder swept the season series last year, winning by an average of 16.5 points.

The Opponent

The Timberwolves enter this game with a 12-26 record. After starting the season a surprising 8-8, the Timberwolves have gone on to lose 18 of their next 22. Minnesota is a young, up and coming team that is just now learning what it takes to compete in the NBA. It’s a team loaded with young talent and veteran leaders.

The young core of Andrew Wiggins, Karl Anthony Towns, and Zach Lavine are the top 3 scorers for the T-Wolves. In addition, Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng give Minnesota young role players off the bench. Ricky Rubio is once again leading the team in assists and steals. Kevin Martin is caught in the middle of the youth movement/veteran presence conundrum. He’s been in the league long enough to serve as one of the wise veterans on the team, but still feels like he can produce at a high level.

The young core is bracketed by a group of veterans whose sole purpose is to teach the young’ins the ways of the NBA. Kevin Garnett, Tayshaun Prince, and Andre Miller have all bought into their role as wise, veteran sages. It’s a young man’s game, but the young men need to learn the ways of the NBA world from the older generation. And Minnesota is doing a good job of carrying on Flip Saunders’ vision of how to develop a contender through the draft.

3 Big Things

1. Defensive Rebounding

One of the biggest impediments to the Thunder’s defense is their inability to grab defensive rebounds consistently. With the game in the balance against the Trailblazers, the Thunder gave up an offensive rebound with 3 seconds left that essentially sealed the game for Portland. Offensive rebounds are like power pellets for opponents: it leads to more possessions and, at times, changes momentum.

While Minnesota isn’t necessarily great on the boards, Towns and Dieng do have the ability to have double-digit rebounding numbers. The fact that Wiggins only gets 3.8 rebounds per game is completely surprising to me. For as long and athletic as Wiggins is, he should be doing more damage on the boards. This should be a game in which the Thunder dominate the boards. Operative words being “should be”.

2. Pack the paint

Minnesota is the 6th worst 3-point shooting team in the league. They only shoot the ball at a 32.5% clip from deep, predicated a lot of their offense from the paint. Rubio and Lavine are the main culprits to Minnesota’s struggles from the field overall, but Wiggins adds to the mix, shooting just 24.5% from deep. The only shooters they really have to worry about are Muhammad and Martin, but even they only shoot in the 35% range. This is a prime game for the Thunder to go under on screens and cut Minnesota’s dribble drive attack at the point of attack. Russell Westbrook, Cameron Payne, Dion Waiters, and Roberson should be able to cut Minnesota’s guards before they get into the paint.

3. Step on the throats

If the Thunder get a double digit lead, they need to go ahead and continue to overwhelm their opponent. Too many times this season, the Thunder have built up big leads, only to see them dissipate in only minutes. It’s a habit the Thunder need to break, and this would be a good game to start building better habits. In addition, this is the first game of a back to back, so it would behoove the Thunder to be able to rest players.

Thunder Killer – Opposing player most likely to have a breakout game against the Thunder:

Andrew Wiggins – While the three point threat isn’t there yet, Wiggins does a good job of attacking the mid-range and getting to the paint against the Thunder. Wiggins’ career high is 35. With the way the Thunder have been defending lately, its not entirely outside the realm of possibility for Wiggins to top that number against OKC.