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Game Thread #5: Wolves vs. Thunder

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The Wolves look to get their first road win of the season against Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Minnesota Timberwolves Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Who: Minnesota Timberwolves (1-3) at Oklahoma City Thunder (4-1.)

Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena (TV coverage on Fox Sports North)

When: 5:00 PM CDT

Why: Because the last time the Wolves played in OKC, this happened:

Unfortunately, the Wolves will be without the Spanish Unicorn for this contest, but Wolves fans will get to see Kris Dunn in his third career start at PG. Dunn was a solid part of their blowout win against Memphis, but a mixed bag on Thursday against the Denver Nuggets, shooting 1-6 for 3 points and adding 9 assists, 5 rebounds, 3 steals, and 4 TO’s in 30 minutes.

While he’s shown flashes early in the season, the Wolves rookie will undoubtedly have his hands full tonight with one-man wrecking crew Russell Westbrook, who is currently 2nd in the league in points (34.2) and assists (10.0) per game, and first in the league in FGA (131) and overall pettiness (100 emoji).

It was a wild week for our colleagues over at Welcome to Loud City. The Thunder began the week by signing Steven Adams and Victor Oladipo to four-year extensions worth $100 million and $84 million, respectively. A day later, once the ink on those extensions had dried, Sam Presti shipped out Ersan Ilyasova and a highly protected first round pick to Philadelphia in exchange for Jerami Grant. Ilyasova is 29 and has an $8.4 million dollar expiring contract, while Grant is 22, makes $980,000 this year, and has already unleashed one thunderous dunk on ex-OKC player Kevin Durant (all while rocking the Serge Ibaka #9 jersey).

“And now, you’re starting lineups...”

Expected Starting Lineups

Minnesota Timberwolves

PG - Kris Dunn

SG - Zach LaVine

SF - Andrew Wiggins

PF - Gorgui Dieng

C - Karl-Anthony Towns

Oklahoma City Thunder

PG - Russell Westbrook

SG - Victor Oladipo

SF - Andre Roberson

PF - Domantas Sabonis

C - Steven Adams

The only injury on the Thunder side of the ball is Cameron Payne, the 2nd year PG out of Murray State who is nursing an acute fracture in his right foot and is expected to be out another month or so.

While the game technically starts at 5:00 PM CDT, the most important time of the game may come at approximately 6:20 PM CDT (the estimated start time for the 3rd quarter). In their three losses this season, the Wolves have been outscored 90-42 in the 3rd quarter, which, after some serious analytical work, I have determined is terrible. Additionally, in those three losses, the Wolves have jumped out to big leads in each game, averaging a scorching 61.6 points in the first half, only to watch those leads disappear in the second half by averaging a brisk 38.3 points. Zach Harper broke down the discrepancy even further:

Listen, we all know teams use halftime to make strategic adjustments and tighten their rotations, but this major discrepancy in first half vs. second half performance is inexcusable and has been the Achilles heel for the Wolves so far this season. I don’t know how to fix this issue, but I trust Thibs & Co. have identified the problem and will stress the importance of strong 2nd-half play going forward (or at least bring additional orange slices for the players like our parents did in youth sports). Whatever the outcome, it will be interesting to see if and how the young Wolves respond on the road against an athletic and frenzied Thunder team coming off an emotional loss at Golden State.

Four Factors

Let’s take a quick look at how the Wolves and Thunder match up using the Four Factors. As a quick refresher, the Four Factors are effective field goal percentage (eFG%), turnover percentage (TOV%), offensive rebounding percentage (ORB%), and free throw rate (FTR).

Factor / Wolves / Thunder

eFG% / .52.2% / 46.2%

TOV% / 16.1 / 16.6

ORB% / 28.6% / 26.2%

FTR / .335 / .283

While we are only two weeks into the season, the Four Factors do highlight a few early trends. The Wolves continue to be dominant in three of the four factors, ranking 5th in eFG%, 4th in FTR, and 2nd in ORB%. The Thunder fall outside the top half of the league in both eFG% and FTR, but do find themselves currently 8th in ORB%. With both teams in the bottom third of the league in TOV%, the key to winning this game may simply come down to who can protect the ball the best and execute down the stretch.

Prediction: Wolves 102, Thunder 93.

The game thread is open for business. Let’s go Wolves!