It’s been a long time since the Minnesota Timberwolves played on Christmas Day. That’s probably because they’ve never played on Christmas.
But apparently acquiring three potential superstars at the age of 21 or less on one team will get you a Christmas Day game.
First of all, I must wish a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to the readers of Canis Hoopus. It’s cliche, but it’s true — this community doesn’t work without readers.
The holiday can get a whole heck of a lot better if the Wolves can pull off the upset at Chesapeake Arena tonight for their 10th win of the season. To do so, however, they’ll have to slow down Russell Westbrook, which seems completely impossible at this point.
The man (or whatever he is) cannot be stopped. He’s coming off a 45-point, 11-rebound, 11-assist performance in a road win against the Boston Celtics. For the season, he’s averaging a triple double — 31.8 points, 10.5 rebounds and 10.8 assists.
After the departure of Kevin Durant, most of us anticipated a spike in Westbrook’s numbers. But averaging a triple double? Come on man. At this point, at least in my opinion, Westbrook is the clear favorite for MVP as long as OKC maintains a playoff position.
Is there a way to stop Westbrook? Frankly, no, there’s not. But there might be a way to contain him or at the very least make him somewhat uncomfortable.
Westbrook’s shooting percentage plummets as the shot clock winds down at a more drastic rate than most. With the shot clock at 22-18 seconds, he is shooting 52.9 percent from the field — which makes sense as much of those baskets would come in transition.
But Westbrook’s shooting percentage drops to 43 percent with the shot clock at 15-7 seconds, which is when he takes 35 percent of his shots. With the shot clock at 7-4 seconds and four or less seconds, Westbrook’s shooting percentage dips to 24.4 percent and 31.6 percent, respectively.
It’s obviously easier said than done (especially with the way Minnesota has played defensively this season), but extending possessions on defense has statistically made Westbrook human. And that’s about all the Wolves can ask for at this point.
This will require better execution when ICEing pick-and-roll sets, which Westbrook loves to operate from. If Minnesota’s bigs can position themselves properly in this defense and force Westbrook to settle for jumpers or even reset, the Wolves will have a chance.
Again, much, much easier said than done. Westbrook moves faster than me getting up for the Christmas dinner buffet.
Overall, OKC is right in the middle of the pack in terms of offensive efficiency — 16th with an offensive rating of 104.3, slightly behind Minnesota’s 105.9 rating in 11th. Defensively, the Thunder is 11th at 103.3 to the Wolves’ 26th ranked mark of 108.1.
One of OKC’s biggest weaknesses is perimeter shooting — ranking 26th in the NBA at 33.4 percent. While the roster does include some players that can shoot the ball, the volume of shots is spread pretty unevenly. Westbrook makes 33.9 percent of his 5.7 attempts per game. Victor Oladipo — who will miss tonight’s game — cans 38.1 percent of 5.6 attempts. Ersan Ilyasova, who the Thunder acquired in a trade earlier in the season to add perimeter shooting, has shockingly only shot 25 percent from deep on 4.0 attempts per contest.
Nobody else on the roster is registering 2.5 or more three-pointers attempted per game. Percentage-wise, Domantas Sabonis (44.4 percent) and Jerami Grant (43.6 percent) are the biggest threats from the outside, but they only shoot 2.4 and 1.4 threes per game, respectively.
The blueprint is there for the Wolves to give themselves a chance on the defensive end — extend possessions to make Westbrook relatively uncomfortable and execute rotations properly to contest perimeter shots against a below-average shooting team.
Whether the young pups can execute that blueprint is another story.
Expected Starting Lineups
PG - Ricky Rubio
SG - Zach LaVine
SF - Andrew Wiggins
PF - Gorgui Dieng
C - Karl-Anthony Towns
Injuries: Nikola Pekovic is OUT (ankle).
PG - Russell Westbrook
SG - Anthony Morrow
SF - Andre Roberson
PF - Damontas Sabonis
C - Steven Adams
Injuries: Victor Oladipo (wrist) and Cameron Payne (foot) are OUT.
As we always do in game previews, let’s take a look at how the Wolves and Thunder match up using the Four Factors. Reminder, the Four Factors are effective field goal percentage (eFG%), turnover percentage (TOV%), offensive rebounding percentage (ORB%), and free throw rate (FTR).
factor / MIN / OKC
eFG% / 50.0 / 50.8
TOV% / 15.3 / 14.9
ORB% / 28.0 / 26.0
FTR / .297 / .292
These (fire emoji) Uniforms!
These uniforms, man. Much of Wolves Nation has yearned for at least a trace of green trim on the Wolves uniforms after it was inexplicably removed from the current unis a few years ago.
Tonight, we’ll get to see lots of green. And it’s gonna be awesome.
Might as well call those LITmas Day uniforms, am I right?
...I’ll show myself out.
Prediction: Thunder 110, Wolves 105