Thunder (34-13, 13-8 road) vs. Timberwolves (14-32, 7-17 home)
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 – 109.4 (2nd), Timberwolves – 101.2 (23rd)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 101.0 (10th), Timberwolves – 104.6 (21st)
Do you know how I can tell that the Thunder are tired? Because I’m a little exhausted from writing all these previews with no more than a day break in between. January has been exhausting for anyone involved with the Thunder. The last three weeks, they’ve played 4 games in 7 nights, with 2 of those games every week being of the back to back variety.
The Thunder haven’t had multiple days off in 44 days. Let that sink in for a second. Forty-four days of not having a weekend. Yes, I know: they are paid very handsomely and still usually get a day off between games. But, the fact still remains that these are athletes, and in sports, the body needs rest to recover. In those 44 days since December 14th, the Thunder have played in 24 games, including tonight’s yet-to-be played game. It has literally been game one day, possibly an off day, and then a game the next day. These are the necessary evils of the NBA calendar, but it can still be quite taxing on a player’s health.
After tonight, the Thunder will be tied with Houston and Dallas for the most games played for the season at 48. Meanwhile, the Washington Wizards have yet to play their 44th game of the season and the Cleveland Cavaliers will have played their 45th game of the season tonight. Now I know everything eventually balances itself out as every team in the league has to play 82 games. But in the present, you can just tell guys like Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka are just exhausted. February, with its All-Star break week and only one back-to-back, will definitely be a welcomed reprieve for these whirlwind travelers.Series History
This is the third of four meetings between the Thunder and Timberwolves. It should almost feel like the Thunder are in a playoff series against the T-wolves. This is the third time they have met in 15 days. The Thunder blew Minnesota out in their last meeting 113-93. In their first meeting, though, the Thunder went into the fourth quarter up by 14. But Zach Lavine and the Timberwolves made a furious rally in the 4th quarter to have them down by three with on three minutes to play. Fortunately, Durant went 4-4 from the field and 4-4 from the line in those final three minutes to stem Minnesota’s tide.The Opponent
The Timberwolves come into the game with a 14-32 record, having lost 12 of their last 14 games. They are young and inexperienced, but they are learning. This is year 2 in what will likely be a 4-year rebuild. When you compare the different models of rebuilding that are out there today, the Minnesota model is probably the most tangible. They have a core of young, talented players surrounded by a core of grizzled veterans that don’t mind being mentors. Every rebuilding team would like the best possible chance to land a top-3 pick, but the Minnesota front office hasn’t gotten in the way of the team learning how to win. In a way, it actually reminds a lot of the Thunder’s model of team rebuilding.
The Kevins (Garnett and Martin) will be sitting out this game due to various injuries. With those two out, look for Shabazz Muhammad, Zach Lavine, and Nemanja Bjelica to get more playing time. Andrew Wiggins has been a lot more consistent from the field in the past few weeks, but is still struggling from the 3-point line. Karl-Anthony Towns has picked up his production in the last 5 games, averaging 20.2 points, 11.6 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks in that stretch of games. Ricky Rubio is a good floor general, but his lack of a perimeter game has prevented him from getting into the upper echelon of point guards.3 Big Things
One thing you don’t want to give a young team is more opportunities to score, especially in transition. If the Thunder limit their turnovers, they’ll shut off a possible valve the Timberwolves use to score. The fourth quarter comeback for the Wolves in the first meeting of the season was keyed by the Thunder committing 5 turnovers in the 4th quarter.
2. Let them shoot 3’s
Other than Lavine, who can quickly catch fire, I would go under on all screens and dare the T-Wolves to shoot threes. They score only 15.2% of their points from the 3-point line, which is worst in the league. Minnesota only has 2 active players shooting 35% or better from 3-point territory (Towns and Bjelica).
I know the Thunder aren’t the “let’s rest our players” type of organization. But, this seems like the perfect opportunity to rest all or some of the Thunder’s big 3. C’mon Billy Donovan: channel your inner Popovich.Thunder Killer – Opposing player most likely to have a breakout game against the Thunder:
Karl-Anthony Towns – The Minnesota big man has struggled in his first two meetings against the Thunder, averaging just 11.5 points on 10-27 shooting combined in the two games. He’s been a lot more aggressive of late on the offensive end and is primed to have a good game.