- Who: Minnesota Timberwolves (13-15) at Oklahoma City Thunder (11-17)
- When: 7:10 PM CT
- Local TV: Bally Sports North (Michael Grady, Jim Petersen and Katie Storm)
- Radio: 830 WCCO-AM
- Line: Wolves +2.5 | Total: 233.5 (courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook)
What To Watch For
For the fourth and final time this season, the Minnesota Timberwolves will take on Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Anthony Edwards and Co. are in the 405 to close out the intra-division matchup with a 2-1 record against OKC. But when the two teams met in Minneapolis just 13 days ago, it was the Thunder that came out on top.
Since then little has changed for either team. Minnesota is still missing star big Karl-Anthony Towns, and Gilgeous-Alexander is still offensive option A, B and C for the Thunder.
The primary difference, or at least, what should be the primary difference, will be the availability of Rudy Gobert.
Only nine minutes into the last meeting between these teams Gobert was ejected after trying to trip Thunder forward Kenrich Williams, and his absence was felt for the Wolves.
Rudy Gobert was ejected for kicking Kenrich Williams and tripping him pic.twitter.com/oCROiUhNk1— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) December 4, 2022
Players like SGA, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Aleksej Pokusevski and more were getting to the rim on regular occasion, and with the stifle tower back patrolling the paint, those looks will get a lot tougher for a Thunder squad that struggles to shoot with consistency from 3-point range.
Outside from the return of Rudy, the status-quo remains the same for the Wolves in this game, stop SGA and you have a good chance to win, but stopping the leagues second leading scorer is a lot easier said than done.
I will try not to completely rehash what I went over in the last Thunder-Wolves preview, but the reality of the situation is that OKC goes as Shai goes, and all to often that season, he has gone wherever he wanted.
Gilgeous-Alexander has done nothing but better since the last time he played the Wolves, and they, and everyone, have almost no chance of stopping him if he can get to his spots. The presence of Gobert in the middle and the length of Jaden McDaniels and Ant give the Wolves a fighting chance, but you might as well sign SGA up for a 30-piece now.
Outside of SGA, Thunder youngsters Jalen Williams and Josh Giddey have been playing well lately, with Williams averaging a 12-4-2 line in his last 10, and Giddey going for 15-9-5 over the same stretch.
Catching up on some Thunder basketball. This is an amazing off-hand pass by Jalen Williams.— Kevin O'Connor (@KevinOConnorNBA) November 25, 2022
OKC has a ton of primary ball handlers but having a guy who can reject an on-ball screen then make bullseye passes like this is such a bonus.
Also a great read by SGA to find a shooter. pic.twitter.com/tNomgCLEZx
The Thunder went down to the Heat in a close one, but Josh Giddey had a day!— ESPN Australia & NZ (@ESPNAusNZ) December 15, 2022
⭐ 19 points
⭐ 11 rebounds
⭐ 7 assists
⭐ +15 plus-minus (team high) pic.twitter.com/YwAUcl1iCT
When OKC gets it going they can be pseudo-difficult to deal with, between SGA, Pokusevski, Giddey, Williams and a few other, their odd concoction of skill-first, athleticism-second players can be an adjustment for opposing teams, and the Wolves will have to be prepared to deal with some funky basketball if they want to come back from Oklahoma with a win.
Get the Offense Back on Track
Coming off an 88-point outing against the Los Angeles Clippers, the Wolves will have to be better on that end if they want to put an end to their early season struggles.
The primary issue against the Clippers was the absolutely abysmal shooting from behind the arc from every. single. player. It wasn’t just a bad shooting night for a few players, the whole team was off, and not a single player shot above 25% from 3 against LA.
The lack of threat from three made it even harder for Edwards to get to the rim. Luckily, when he is able to get there he is so talented around the basket that he is still able to score, but for the Wolves to be any sort of threat in the Western Conference, their shooters have to improve.
A second straight game shooting 18.2% from three is almost statistically impossible in the modern NBA, but if the Wolves want to beat this scrappy OKC team, or any team for that matter, they must improve their performance shooting the ball.
In many ways, the Gobert experience has left a little to be desired to this point. Luckily, he gets a matchup with a OKC team who boasts 7-foot, 210 pound Aleksej Pokusevski as their primary rim protector.
Gobert and the rest of the Timberwolves should pounce on this opportunity to get the French rejection back on the right track and funnel post looks to him whenever they can.
Minnesota could use Gobert’s inside presence to draw Thunder defenders inside, getting shooters back on track with better looks, and giving Ant a few chances to use his defenders momentum against him to get to the rim, both things that will be crucial if the Wolves want to improve offensively.
Without Chet Holmgren, the Thunder are without a true rim protector. Pokusevski is a solid weak side shot blocker, but in one-on-one, back em’ down situations, he is completely overmatched physically, and Gobert should be the beneficiary of lots of predetermined looks down low against OKC.
- D’Angelo Russell (left knee contusion)
- Rudy Gobert (left ankle sprain)
- Jordan McLaughlin (left calf strain)
- Taurean Prince (right shoulder sublaxation)
- Karl-Anthony Towns (right calf strain)
- Darius Bazley (Non-COVID illness)
- Ousmane Dieng (right wrist non-displaced fracture)
- Chet Holmgren (right foot surgery)
- Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (right ankle sprain)
- Kenrich Williams (right knee sprain)