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Wolves vs. Thunder: Playing Spoiler

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Russell Westbrook and company visit the Target Center tonight

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Oklahoma City Thunder Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Wolves (29-34) vs Thunder (39-24)

7:00pm CST

FS North

Well, here we are. We’ve reached a somewhat dead period in the NBA with the playoff and lottery picture taking shape. There was slight hope for a Timberwolves playoff run, but that is most certainly gone after yet another winless road trip. The Wolves are 9-20 on the road this year. That is how this season went so haywire after the Butler trade.

With that being said, the Wolves are at home tonight where they are 20-10 on the season. That should provide some optimism about their chances tonight, especially since Paul George is out again with a shoulder injury.

Yes, Oklahoma City still has Russell Westbrook and Steven Adams, but OKC has been terrible this season without George on the floor. They post a -9.7 net-rating with PG off the floor. For reference, that -9.7 figure is similar to the level of play of Phoenix (-9.0) and Cleveland (-10.1). In George’s absence, OKC has gone 1-2 including a home loss to the Embiid-less Sixers.

If Minnesota shows up tonight, this is absolutely a game that they can win. Now, I’m sure there’ll be a crowd that wants the Wolves to just tank, but that is just not worth it. I’m not going to deny that the Wolves could improve their draft position, but the general consensus from draft folk much smarter than me is that after Zion and (maybe) R.J. Barrett, prospects 3 through the end of lottery are all pretty even.

I’d much rather work towards cultivating a culture of winning and, in the process, play spoiler for teams who are still fighting for playoff positioning. Sure, the Wolves aren’t going to be in the playoffs. They’re (almost surely) not going to win the Zion Sweepstakes. The most fun alternative to those, then, is to play well to close out the season and play spoiler for teams who badly will want home court in the postseason.

Where I do worry is on the backboards. If the Thunder are posting 20+ second chance points, Minnesota likely will add another tally to the loss column. Oklahoma City has the 5th best Offensive Rebound % in the NBA. Minnesota has the 5th worst Defensive Rebound % in the NBA. That could be a huge problem.

Without PG, OKC relies solely on Westbrook and Dennis Schroeder for creation. They’re talented, and I’m as big of a fan of Westbrook as there is, but they’re both rather inefficient players. I’d expect the first shot defense to be strong tonight. Westbrook is in such a slump shooting the ball this year that Minnesota doesn’t even need to commit that much attention to him. Do your best to keep him from getting to the rim every time and live with the results.

I nearly wrote about how this could be a difficult matchup for Towns, but I’m not even going to kid myself anymore. KAT is in such a groove that it really does not matter who is guarding him. Adams might be too physical for Towns in the post on occasion, but Adams has no shot of taking care of Towns on the perimeter. I’m always for more KAT three-point attempts, and tonight is no different. Get the guy the ball and let him make plays for himself and everyone else.

Lastly, since it is a topic that I’m sure will get mentioned on the broadcast tonight, if Russell Westbrook posts a triple-double tonight Minnesota is likely going to lose. I get that it can look like stat-padding at times. However, in Russ’ career, OKC plays at a 66-win pace in games where Westbrook gets a triple-double. It turns out that getting a lot of points, rebounds, and assists is good for your team.

P.S. - OKC has some serious high flyers. Watch your head tonight.

Bet of the night

I’m in no way saying that you SHOULD make these bets. I’m not betting them. It’s just a fun extra thing that I’ll be tracking for the remainder of the season. All lines via Bovada.

Well, on the road trip we picked the Wolves to win/cover and for the under to hit in a game where they showed zero inclination towards playing defense. That’s led to a 3 game losing streak and falling to 5-8. Hopefully we pick it up at home.

The pick: Karl-Anthony Towns over 26.5 points (-125)

I’m tired of trying to guess when the Wolves will or won’t show up as a team. Their defense stinks without RoCo and/or Deng. The one thing we can count on right now is KAT putting the ball in the basket, and I’m going to bet that his hot streak continues. I thought he’d struggle with Myles Turner a few nights ago and he got Turner into foul trouble immediately. There isn’t a matchup that could sway me from placing my bet on Towns approaching 30 points. We will ride or die with the Big KAT.

Projected Lineups

Wolves

Jeff Teague

Josh Okogie

Andrew Wiggins

Dario Saric

Karl-Anthony Towns

Thunder

Russell Westbrook

Terrence Ferguson

Deonte Burton

Jerami Grant

Steven Adams