Timberwolves (20-45, 9-23 road) vs. Thunder (44-20, 26-8 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 – 109.7 (2nd), Timberwolves – 103.7 (12th)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 103.0 (14th), Timberwolves – 107.3 (28th)
Consistency: its the trait the Thunder struggle with the most. They had a great game against the Clippers, putting up otherworldly numbers and playing the kind of team basketball that many thought would be prevalent with the hiring of Billy Donovan. But now, against a lesser opponent, the Thunder’s M.O. has usually been to play down to their competition. In early January, the Thunder dominated the Memphis Grizzlies, a playoff team that has always given them fits, 112-94. Two nights later, against the lowly Los Angeles Lakers, the Thunder allowed Lou Williams to go nuclear in the 4th quarter to make what should have been an easy victory into a struggle till the end. The Thunder still won the game, but the energy they expended may have affected them in their next game against the Portland Trailblazers, which resulted in a loss.
Can we expect Russell Westbrook to go for 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 19 (nee 20) assists every game? Of course not. But what you would like to consistently see is him involving his teammates throughout the game, not just in the first half. Against the Clippers, Westbrook had four assists in the fourth quarter. For a team that is known for their lack of ball movement in the fourth quarter, Westbrook and Durant only scored 10 of the Thunder’s 27 points in that fourth quarter. Can we expect Andre Roberson to explode for 13 points every game? No, but his offensive aggressiveness since he has come back from his knee injury have been a positive. It’s the little things the Thunder need to continue doing consistently to move from really good to great.
This is the fourth and final meeting of the season between the Thunder and Timberwolves. The Thunder have swept the season series so far, but two of the games have been a lot closer than expected. In their first meeting, the Thunder needed the calming hand of Kevin Durant to hold the Timberwolves off 101-96. In that game, Durant scored 12 of his 30 points in the final 3 minutes of the game on a variety of deep 2-point shots. In their last meeting, the Thunder had to come back in the fourth quarter, after Zach Lavine exploded for 35 points on 5-8 shooting from deep.
The Timberwolves come into this game with a 20-45 record, having lost 5 of their last 6 games. The youth movement is in full swing in Minnesota after the T-Wolves released veterans Andre Miller and Kevin Martin, who both ended up signing with the San Antonio Spurs. In their stead, young players like Tyus Jones and Adreian Payne have gotten a lot more playing time of late. Andrew Wiggins has recently been a lot more assertive, averaging 24.7 points per game in his last 3 games. In combination with Karl-Anthony Towns’ excellent play during that same stretch (25 ppg and 10 rpg), the T-Wolves are looking for their young stars to learn how to compete in the NBA. Shooting guard Zach Lavine is also coming into his ow, being a lot more consistent than he was last season. Lavine has been averaging 19.2 points on 40% shooting from deep in the last 5 games.
Ricky Rubio, once thought to be the heir apparent to the Steve Nash-brand of the point guarding, has struggled with his shot and becomes a lot more of an offensive liability as teams lay off him defensively. With Kevin Garnett, Nikola Pekovic, and Tayshaun Prince receiving little to no playing time, the depth on Minnesota’s team is devoid of any kind of experience. While players like Shabazz Muhammed and Gorgui Dieng continue to show flashes, their inexperience, especially in close games, prevents them from achieving continued success. Floor-spacing big man Nemanja Bjelica should be back tonight after missing the last 11 games with a foot injury.
3 Big Things1. Protect the paint
The Timberwolves attempt and make the least amount of 3’s in the league. While Zach Lavine can get hot from outside from time to time, most of the damage done by the T-Wolves offense is from dribble drives and mid-range shots. This will definitely be a game where Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams will make their presence felt defensively.2. Minnesota’s Big 3
Minnesota’s Big 3 of Wiggins, Towns, and Lavine has been averaging 68 points per game in the last three games. The release of Kevin Martin and Andre Miller and injuries to Kevin Garnett and Nikola Pekovic have provided the team with time and necessity to develop their rich talent. Minnesota is in a position where they know they will have a high draft pick in what is looking like a deep draft and need to see what they truly need. The Thunder will need to keep tabs on all three of their prime players and prevent them from gaining any type of confidence throughout the game.3. Bench
With so much youth and inexperience on Minnesota’s bench, the Thunder should be able to take advantage of this facet of the game. Gorgui Dieng is more of a mid range player, but no one on Minnesota’s bench is exceptionally great on the pick and roll. This could be a game where Enes Kanter gets his customary double/double in quick fashion. In addition, I would showcase Cameron Payne against Tyus Jones so that Payne can gain a little confidence going against someone with as little experience as himself.
Zach Lavine – The Minnesota guard has a habit of getting hot from deep against the Thunder.