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Thunder at Wolves Game Preview: Changing the Tide

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The Wolves look to put the last two games behind them in a rematch with OKC

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Oklahoma City Thunder Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Thunder at Wolves
7:00 pm CDT
NBA TV

Less than one week ago, Andrew Wiggins hit the biggest shot of his young career on the road against an Oklahoma City Thunder team that most people consider one of the more elite teams throughout the league. Wolves fans had a lot to celebrate after that win — they shot 40 percent from three, they out-rebounded the likes of Steven Adams and they sealed the deal with the kind of shot that makes the game of basketball as great as it is. There’s no question it will go down as one of the most exciting regular season victories in franchise history.

...and then Tuesday and Wednesday happened. The basketball gods have toyed with Timberwolves fans for nearly three decades, and like clockwork our hopes were dashed almost instantly with back-to-back blowout losses against teams that were expected to be fringe playoff contenders in the East at best.

There’s no need to dive too deep into what went wrong during those losses — this fragile Minnesota sports ego can only handle so much. But I will say we’re definitely going to see some of those struggles continue, and it won’t be pretty. Hopefully Jimmy Butler’s return to the lineup (whenever that may be) will provide the kind of boost this Wolves team needs, particularly on defense.

Since last Sunday, the Thunder have played just one game, which came as an 18-point victory against a Pacers team that beat the Wolves by 23 the night prior. And you better believe the Thunder are going to come into this game with a chip on their shoulder. Russell Westbrook holds grudges for far smaller reasons.

He went off against Indiana to get his second triple-double of the season, with 28 points, 10 rebounds and 16 assists. All the while, Carmelo Anthony dropped 28 of his own and is currently shooting eight threes per game, albeit at only 31 percent. We can count on Russ being spectacular and Paul George being a pain on defense, but if the Thunder unlock Olympic Melo and he gets the open looks Tobias Harris was getting on Wednesday, this game will head south really quick.

The Thunder have so many threats at so many different positions that the Wolves can’t afford to fall asleep on defense like they have been recently, especially in transition. Once Russ gets running, it’s an all-out blitz that the Wolves will have a tough time stopping.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Oklahoma City Thunder Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

This rematch will be a good test to see how the Wolves really fare against one of the best teams in the league, and it will hopefully answer the myriad questions we all have at the moment. Was Sunday’s win the anomaly or were the two recent losses? Does Jimmy Butler really make that much of a difference for this team overall? Does this team have an issue with playing down to the level of their opponents? Why do the basketball gods hate Minnesota so much? Is it because of Duck, Duck, Gray Duck? (Probably it’s because of Duck, Duck Gray Duck.)

Anyway, the Wolves have a lot to prove in this rematch, and in many ways this game will set the tone for how we think of them moving forward. If they can beat a tenacious Thunder team twice in one week, that’s incredibly inspiring. On the other hand, if the Thunder run them off their home court for their third loss in a row, panic will inevitably start to creep.

Projected Starting Lineups

Wolves

Jeff Teague

Andrew Wiggins

Jimmy Butler (?)

Taj Gibson

Karl-Anthony Towns

Injuries: Justin Patton (Left foot)

Thunder

Russell Westbrook

Andre Roberson

Paul George

Carmelo Anthony

Steven Adams

Prediction: Wolves 111, Thunder 106

Assuming he plays, Jimmy Butler’s subtle impact on the court becomes more apparent than previously thought.