4 min read

Timberwolves vs. Thunder: Pregame Primer

Timberwolves vs. Thunder: Pregame Primer



Timberwolves (12-28, 7-11 road) vs. Thunder (28-12, 18-5 home)

TV: ESPN/FSOklahoma
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 1300 AM The Buzz Tulsa)
Time: 6:00 PM CST

Team Comparisons (per NBA.com/Stats)

  • Offensive Rating: Thunder – 109.2 (2nd), Timberwolves – 100.3 (26th)
    Defensive Rating: Thunder – 100.6 (9th), Timberwolves – 104.1 (20th)

Another game. Another empty-calorie victory. Yes, the Thunder beat the Mavericks 108-89, but they were supposed to. The Mavericks rested all their starters after playing an overtime game the previous night against the Cleveland Cavaliers. But for those of you expecting me to write something negative after the contents of my last preview, I’m sorry to disappoint.

I thought this was exactly the type of game the Thunder needed to find its way again. This was their slump buster. Russell Westbrook, who was held scoreless, was well on his way to a triple double before he was ejected in the 2nd quarter. Serge Ibaka and Kevin Durant both had point/rebound double doubles. Cam Payne proved capable in replacing Westbrook to begin the 2nd half, with 10 points, 3 assists, and 3 steals. And Dion Waiters broke out of his slump to score 18 points. Sometimes, as a team, all you need to do is see the ball go through the basket and find some other person/team to buck up to. Both happened in the Dallas game.

Series History

This is the second of four meetings this season between the Thunder and Timberwolves. They last played three days ago in a game the Thunder won 101-96. After being in control for much of the game, the Thunder allowed the Timberwolves to get within 3 points with 3 minutes left in the fourth quarter. Then Durant took over. He went on to score the Thunder’s last 12 points and usually answered any run the T-Wolves put together with a dagger mid-range jumper. It was vintage Durant.

The Opponent

The Timberwolves come into this game with a 12-28 record, having lost 12 of their last 13 games, including a current streak of 8 in a row. In this 13 game stretch, they have only scored over 100 points once. The growing pains of this team are showing after such a promising start to the season.

While Andrew Wiggins hasn’t necessarily regressed, he hasn’t really added anything of note to his game to build off his Rookie of the Year campaign from last season. In December, Karl Anthony Towns averaged 18.6 points and 9.5 rebounds per game on 55.3% shooting from the field. In January, his numbers have dipped to 12.6 points and 9.4 rebounds per game on 46.5% shooting from the field. The rookie wall is a horrible thing, sometimes. Zach Lavine is the young player’s version of JR Smith. Someone who is uber athletic and talented, but struggles with consistency and efficiency. Shabazz Muhammad has really impressed me this season. He seems to be putting together all that skill we were privy to before UCLA, and is developing into one of the better role players/6th men in the league. It pains me that a player as talented and exciting as Ricky Rubio never got his shot to the point where it would further aid his game.

3 Big Things

1.Defensive Consistency

As Durant stated a couple days ago, the Thunder just aren’t yet good enough to turn it on and off whenever they want to. The last time they played Minnesota, the Thunder held leads of 11, 14, and 18 in each of the first three quarters, only to find themselves leading by just 3 points with 54 seconds left in the game. It’s a scenario that plagued the Thunder on their recent 3 game road trip and crept up a bit in the fourth quarter against the Maverick’s B-Team on Wednesday.

Once the Thunder get a sizable lead, they tend to let human nature take over and relax a bit. The wings start to gamble a bit more looking for the highlight play and the bigs tend not contest shots as vehemently. And just like with any team in the NBA, once they see the ball go through the basket a couple times, the adrenaline starts to pump and the pendulum called momentum starts to swing in the opposite direction. If the Thunder are to progress into that next level, they will need to learn to be disciplined on the defensive end regardless of the scenario (down by 2 or up by 20).

2. Hungry Animals

The Timberwolves have been on the precipice of winning a game in their last 3 opportunities. They lost by 6 to the Mavericks, 5 to the Thunder, and 3 to the Rockets in their last game. They are desperate for a win and beating one of the top teams in the West would be like winning a playoff series for them. Do not take this young team lightly.

3. Turnovers

Nothing gets a young team going like turning defense into offense. With the Thunder’s propensity to get careless with the ball when they get a lead, this may become a factor. Take care of the ball and the Thunder should be good to go.

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

Zach Lavine – Like I said, he’s the JR Smith of young players. And since Smith usually finds a way to torch the Thunder, I’m thinking Lavine could probably do the same. He had 21 points the last time they played, scoring 13 of those in the 4th quarter. He’s just as likely to go 7/12 from the field as he is of going 3/12 from the field.