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Game Preview #39: Wolves at Thunder

The Wolves kick off a four-game road trip with a rematch with the Thunder in Oklahoma City.

Oklahoma City Thunder v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Harrison Barden/Getty Images

Game Info

Who: Minnesota Timberwolves (18-20) at Oklahoma City Thunder (13-24)
When: 7:10 pm CST
TV: Bally Sports North / NBA League Pass
Radio: 830 WCCO AM Radio
Line: Wolves -5.5 | O/U 218.5



What To Watch For

After an mostly low-energy, one-game pit stop in Minneapolis, the Timberwolves find themselves facing a three-week stretch that features nine road games — five against teams in the playoff picture — and two one-game stops at home, one against each conference’s favored champion.

That hellacious gauntlet starts does start, however, against three of the Western Conference’s less competitive teams — Oklahoma City tonight, Houston on Sunday, and New Orleans on Tuesday — and presents Minnesota with an opportunity to solidify their place as a team vying for national respect in the thick of the race for the Western Conference’s No. 6 seed.

Head coach Chris Finch will have look elsewhere for energy tonight as his squad’s heart and soul, Patrick Beverley, is out with right groin soreness and will be day-to-day, according to Chris Finch. Keep in mind that Beverley missed 6.75 games after Thanksgiving with a left groin strain, so absence is not an aggravation of that injury.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Los Angeles Clippers Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

Finch does have his “Big 3” back intact with each having an opportunity to shake off some rust in at least one game; simply put, there are no excuses tonight. Serious teams win games like these. Playoff teams beat teams they are supposed to beat, even when facing less-than-perfect-conditions, which players on this team have been far too quick to point out after poor losses.

Yes, Minnesota has lost the fourth-most minutes among rotation players to health and safety protocols. Yes, Finch’s bunch has been without Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell, Beverley, and Jarred Vanderbilt to injuries or non-COVID illnesses on nights they’ve lost.

But who hasn’t been? The circumstances aren’t always going to be fair or balanced. The teams who consistently find ways to overcome them are the ones who find themselves playing meaningful basketball in April, and the Timberwolves have long been strangers to that.

Unlike past Wolves teams that have been strangers to success, this one has the talent and play style to weather the storm as long as its players adopt a similar mindset to that of their head coach, who has equated playing without key guys to “Playing with house money.”

San Antonio Spurs v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images

That aggressive mentality, coupled with keeping the team’s collective foot on the gas, eroded slowly but surely on Wednesday night in Round 1 against the Thunder, before Beverley asserted himself.

“Wake the fuck up! It’s our job! Wake the fuck up,” he yelled at his teammates in the fourth quarter while Jaylen Nowell was walking to he free throw line with a three-point lead with 4:15 to play.

Beverley’s Wolves responded with a 12-7 run to close out a scrappy Oklahoma City team that fought back from a 21-point deficit while playing without its best stopper, Lu Dort, and head coach, Mark Daigneault.

Tonight, Minnesota will have to spark that flame from within, and Anthony Edwards is a prime candidate to be the match that starts the fire.

Edwards is averaging 26.8 points per game on 52.7/44.7/81.0 shooting splits, 4.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists in his last five road games (in which the Wolves are 3-2), while taking a team-high 18.2 shots per contest.

That type of efficient, high volume production packaged with a show-stopping, scintillating explosiveness create a player capable of carrying a team in any given game. But, that skillset and effervescent personality can especially present themselves for matchups whose multiple matters more in the end-of-season, playoff calculus equation the Wolves have gone insane trying to solve since Kevin Garnett shipped out to Boston 15 years ago.

Oklahoma City Thunder v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Harrison Barden/Getty Images

There is a classic yin and yang with the task Edwards has at hand tonight.

Edwards won’t face the double teams he saw without his Towns and Russell flanked beside him, an experience he described as “miserable” on Wednesday. However, the Atlanta native will get well-acquainted with Dort, one of the league’s best perimeter defenders, who has size and athleticism to match the physicality Edwards brings on a nightly basis.

Dort has kept Edwards in check for the most part in his three meetings with Edwards; Edwards has twice failed to register north of 20 points and 40.0% shooting when matched up with his fellow adidas sponsor, albeit with two of those matchups coming without Towns in the lineup. Dort v. Edwards Round 4 will certainly be the matchup to watch on the perimeter tonight.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Oklahoma City Thunder Photo by Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images

Finch will need a big night from Towns in support of Edwards. Oklahoma City’s biggest defender is 6-foot-10-inch, 240-pound (and Roseville, MN native) Mike Muscala, who is largely a perimeter player; outside of Muscala, he’ll see Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, who stands 6-foot-8, 242 pounds. Towns was largely indecisive when he receiving the ball in the paint on Wednesday and will need to clean that up if he wants to be impactful on offense tonight. Expect him to be involved in a more frequent two-man game with Edwards in Beverley’s absence.

Thunder point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was largely quiet in the loss at Target Center but started to percolate in the second half before the Wolves clamped down in the final five minutes. If he gives Oklahoma City more early on tonight than the four points on 1-of-6 shooting he produced in the first half of Wednesday’s game, we’re in for a competitive matchup Minnesota needs to rise to the occasion for.


Injury Reports

Minnesota

OUT

  • Patrick Beverley (sore right groin)
  • Leandro Bolmaro (health and safety protocols)
  • McKinley Wright IV (G-League two-way assignment)

Oklahoma City

OUT

  • Derrick Favors (back soreness)
  • Isaiah Roby (health and safety protocols)

Gambling Pick

I’m giving out a gambling pick before every Wolves game this season. So far, I am 21-17 (55%).

Tonight’s play: Karl-Anthony Towns over 13.5 rebounds + assists

  • Had 19 against the Thunder on Wednesday
  • Gone over in four of his last six games
  • Over against key smaller teams of late (OKC, Dallas without Porzingis, Portland)
  • More Beasley spot-ups with increased minutes and Nowell attacks off catch into pull-ups
  • Will get doubled a ton in the post on the catch — plenty of assist opportunities