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Game Preview #23: Wolves vs Thunder

Anthony Edwards and Rudy Gobert will look to keep it rolling while Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and the Thunder are aiming to play spoiler on a Saturday night at Target Center.

Oklahoma City Thunder v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

Game Info

  • Who: Oklahoma City Thunder (9-13) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (11-11)
  • When: 7:10 PM CT
  • TV: Bally Sports North (Michael Grady, Jim Petersen and Katie Storm)
  • Radio: 830 WCCO-AM
  • Line: Wolves -4.5 | Total: 233 (courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook)

What to Watch for

Despite preseason expectations being wildly different, the Minnesota Timberwolves are only two games above the Oklahoma City Thunder in the win column as they enter their third matchup of the season.

Minnesota is coming off arguably their biggest win of the season in which they defeated the Memphis Grizzlies.

The Wolves surprised the NBA world when they took down Ja Morant and the Grizzlies without Karl-Anthony Towns, who missed the first game of what is expected to be an extended absence due to a right calf strain. But the win wasn't the biggest thing that Minnesota took away from the game, that would be the re-emergence of superstar Anthony Edwards.

Edwards had been struggling to adjust to the clogged paint that a Rudy Gobert-Towns team at times produces, but with only one of the two bigs on the court, Edwards was able to slash his way to the rim at will, resulting in a 29-point, five-assist showing en route to an encouraging win.

The hope among Timberwolves faithful is that the win over Memphis can set the season back on course, and hopefully be a springboard into Minnesota playing how they expected to this offseason.

On the opposite end of the court will be Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and the Oklahoma City Thunder.

OKC heads to Minnesota after earning a big win in their own right. While a win over the San Antonio Spurs may not look like much on the surface, the Thunder won the game despite Gilgeous-Alexander missing the game, largely due to the performance of rookie Jalen Williams, who scored a career-high 27 points in the game. Williams, fresh off being named the Western Conference Rookie of the Month, is quietly turning into a solid offensive option for the Thunder. Alongside SGA and Josh Giddey, Williams may be emerging as the Thunder’s third option.

Even with the emergence of Williams, Gilgeous-Alexander should be at the top of Minnesota’s scouting report. SGA is on a tear so far this season, averaging a whopping 31.2 points per game, a figure that puts the fifth-year guard third in the NBA in scoring. Gilgeous-Alexander has been at the heart of the All-NBA conversation this year and has undoubtedly made the jump to superstardom this season.

SGA missed one of the first two games against the Wolves, but when he did play, Minnesota did a fairly good job defending him, largely because of the length and defensive ability of Jaden McDaniels, who will return tonight after missing the last three games with an illness.

While seeing 32 points in the box score may not seem like a good defensive showing, SGA has been unstoppable for much of the season, and 32 is about as good as you're going to be able to do against him.

Minnesota should be able to defeat the Thunder tonight, but SGA’s solo act has been surprisingly difficult to stop this season, so the Wolves must stay on their toes.

Letting Ant Cook

It is not a coincidence that the Timberwolves' biggest win of the season came during an explosive showing from Edwards. He should be the engine of Minnesota’s offense on a nightly basis, and too often this season that has not been the case, whether the reasons for that are in or out of his control.

During their first two matchups against Oklahoma City, Edwards looked like two different players.

In the Wolves' season opener, Ant played poorly, going 4-17 from the field, scoring just 11 points, and recording five personal fouls. He did find a way to impact the game in other ways, ripping down 8 rebounds and dishing out 7 assists, but it was not up to his usual standards even with these non-scoring contributions.

His second performance was the polar opposite.

Edwards dominated anyone OKC threw in front of him, whether it was Lu Dort, SGA, or anybody else the Thunder tried to defend him with.

Edwards scored 30 points rather easily, going 13-19 from the field and absolutely shredding the Thunder defense, also grabbing 11 rebounds in the process.

If the second-game Ant shows up tonight, or any night, Minnesota ascends to a completely different team, and they can be who many fans thought they were going to be.

Start Up the Fountain of Youth

One of the detriments of playing OKC is their youth. The youngest team in the league, the Thunder usually have fresher legs than their opponent, and it is one of the biggest factors in Oklahoma City’s ability to come back and make games competitive.

Minnesota can counter with a youthful rotation of its own. With guys like Josh Minott, Wendell Moore Jr., Edwards, Luka Garza, McDaniels, and Naz Reid, the Timberwolves should fight fire with fire, giving Gobert and D’Angelo Russell long breaks in between playing time and letting the young legs of OKC tire themselves out against Minnesota’s young rotation players, and then bring in the cagey vets for closing time.

Minnesota will probably win this game whether it’s the young guys or the vets playing, but with an eye to the postseason, the Wolves should use this game as an opportunity to rest their vets, at least a little bit.