Thunder vs. Timberwolves: Pregame Primer
Thunder (24-16, 9-10 road) vs. Timberwolves (13-26, 8-13 home)
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 930 AM (Spanish))
Time: 7:00 PM CST
Team Comparisons (per NBA.com/Stats)
- Offensive Rating: Thunder – 105.5 (15th), Timberwolves – 106.4 (11th)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 103.8 (8th), Timberwolves – 107.4 (23rd)
“On the road again/Just can’t wait to get on the road again/The life I love is making music with my friendsAnd I can’t wait to get on the road again/On the road again” Willie Nelson from the song “On The Road Again”.Well, it’s finally here. The 6-game road trip that will probably define this month is finally upon the Oklahoma City Thunder. In their nine seasons in Oklahoma City, the Thunder have only embarked on a road trip of this magnitude once: a six game trip in January 2013 (18th-27th). The team has done a good job of staying afloat to begin the month, winning three in a row after losing the first three games of 2017. This trip will see them take on three current playoff teams, to include the team with the best record in the league, the Warriors, and the team the Thunder will likely be battling for the division crown, the Jazz.
It’s the games against the non-playoff teams that will be key. Win the games you are supposed to win, and the record will work itself out. Lose a couple of those, and you are behind the 8-ball, having to win games against much tougher opponents. Good thing about this trip is the four day break after the Warriors game. This will allow the Thunder to go back home for a couple days, have a couple practices, and refocus before going back out on the road to play the final two games of the road trip.
Season Series SummaryThis is the third of four meetings between the Thunder and T-Wolves. The Thunder have so far won the first two games handily, by an average margin of 16 points.The OpponentThe Timberwolves come into this game with a 13-26 record, having won their last two games. Their last game was a victory against the Rockets, in which they held Houston to 15-42 shooting from 3-point territory (35.7%). Minnesota has had a rough start under new head coach Tom Thibodeau, whose expertise is on the defensive end of the floor. Those defensive principles haven’t immediately resonated with this young Minnesota squad, and that has manifested itself in some growing pains in the first half of this season. But as is usually the case with something new, the Timberwolves seem to be grasping the concepts of Thibodeau’s teachings over the past 10 games. In that timespan, they’ve held their opponents to 99.7 points per game. In the 15 games prior to that, opponents were scoring an average of 109.9 points per game.That is a tangible improvement for a team who’s core is one of the youngest in the league. I’ve noticed how Thibodeau coaches and I know that can grate on people over time. But he’s a basketball lifer who has coached at a championship level before. If the Timberwolves’ players can get past the gruffness of his style, they may be able to get to a level they probably couldn’t have gotten with another coach.Injuries:
3 Big Things
- 1. Defensive Rebounding
Minnesota is the third best in the league at grabbing available offensive rebounds, getting them at a 28% clip. This allows them to score 15 second chance points per game. One of the worst things to do with a young team is allow them more opportunities to score than they should have. The Thunder big men will need to be disciplined on Gorgui Dieng and Karl-Anthony Towns, who together grab 5.8 offensive boards per game.
- 2. Attack the Paint
For all the good things about Towns, one of the things that’s still a work in progress is his defense. Too many times he gets caught out of position which either leads to points in the paint or free throws. With the Thunder having one of the best attacking guards in the league, this will be a big part of their game plan in this match-up.
- 3. Bench
Minnesota has the worst scoring bench in the league, scoring only 21.9 points per game. The Thunder, on the other hand, score 36.8 points per game. Cole Aldrich is the only true center off the bench and he’s been in Thibodeau’s dog house lately, averaging just 5.6 minutes per game in the past 5 games. Enes Kanter should be able to take full advantage of this and have another big game off the bench for the Thunder.