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Game Preview #17: Wolves vs Thunder

The top two teams in the Western Conference face off in their final in-season tournament group play game, as Oklahoma City looks for revenge after getting eliminated by Minnesota in last season’s play-in tournament.

Oklahoma City Thunder v Minnesota Timberwolves - Play-In Tournament Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

Game Info

  • Who: Minnesota Timberwolves (12-4) vs Oklahoma City Thunder (11-5)
  • When: 7:00 PM CT
  • Where: Target Center
  • TV: Bally Sports North (Michael Grady, Jim Petersen and Marney Gellner)
  • Radio: Wolves Radio App, KFAN FM 100.3
  • Line: Wolves -3, Total: 229 (courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook)

Injury Report

Updated as of 10:30 PM CT on Monday:

Minnesota

OUT:

  • Jaylen Clark (right achilles tendon rupture rehab)
  • Jaden McDaniels (Grade 1 lateral right ankle sprain)
  • Jordan McLaughlin (right knee MCL sprain)

Oklahoma City

NONE


The Numbers

Minnesota

OFFRTG: 113.2 (13th)
DEFRTG: 106.8 (1st)
NETRTG: +6.4 (4th)

eFG%: 55.4 (10th)
FTr: .289 (6th)
TOV%: 15.2 (24th)
OREB%: 28.1 (17th)

PACE: 99.20 (19th)
FBPS: 14.6 (12th)
2nd PTS: 12.9 (23rd)
PITP: 50.5 (15th)

Oklahoma City

OFFRTG: 117.9 (6th)
DEFRTG: 109.6 (7th)
NETRTG: +8.3 (2nd)

eFG%: 57.2 (2nd)
FTr: .268 (10th)
TOV%: 13.7 (10th)
OREB%: 25.2 (28th)

PACE: 100.81 (10th)
FBPS: 14.6 (12th)
2nd PTS: 10.5 (28th)
PITP: 51.6 (11th)

What To Watch For

Oklahoma City Thunder v Chicago Bulls Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

SGA’s Revenge

The last time these two teams faced off, it was in the final play-in game to decide the 8th seed of the 2023 playoffs. Rudy Gobert had just come back from a team-imposed one-game suspension from smacking Kyle Anderson. Jaden McDaniels was missing his second game after smacking a concrete wall. Anthony Edwards just had one of his worst games of his career in the play-in tournament against the Los Angeles Lakers. Everything looked prime for All-NBA talent, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, to show out and will his team to their first postseason berth since the 2020 bubble playoffs.

Then Coach Chris Finch made the bold move to call upon Nickeil Alexander-Walker to battle against his close friend and cousin.

The result was a defensive clinic where SGA was limited to “just” 22 points on 5 of 19 shooting, and a black eye to boot. The Wolves walked away with an easy 25-point win, so I’m willing to bet SGA has had this game circled on his calendar since the 2023-2024 schedule was released. Instead of battling as the last one in for the postseason dance, they’re now battling as the top two seeds of their conference. Expect fireworks.

Chicago Bulls v Oklahoma City Thunder Photo by Joshua Gateley/Getty Images

Holmgren’s Homecoming

SGA will be bringing along extra firepower this time around. A 7-foot, multi-skilled monster, at that. After sitting out his entire rookie season due to a foot injury, Chet Holmgren returns to his home state of Minnesota to make his professional debut. He’s been having a helluva rookie campaign where he is surely a top contender for the Rookie of the Year award. He’s averaging 18.1 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 2.1 blocks, and just a shade under 1.0 steal per game on sparkling .564/.438/.881 shooting splits. His offensive range will test Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns’ defense. His defensive presence in the paint will test Anthony Edwards. The Wolves frontcourt will have their hands full. It would be wise for them to use their physicality and put Chet into foul trouble by attacking him in the paint. Sometimes the best defense is a good offense.

Oklahoma City Thunder v Sacramento Kings Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

J-Dub Back in Action

The dynamic sophomore wing, Jalen Williams, will be suiting back up after missing the previous three games due to a hip issue. He had an amazing rookie year where he looked more like a seasoned vet, but is now playing even better with averages of 17.5 points, 4.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 1.0 stocks per game. He’s OKC’s third leading scorer and will play a huge role for the visitors, acting as a important pressure release for the effective two-man game between SGA and Chet. NAW will likely mark SGA while Ant will likely draw the Williams as his defensive assignment. He certainly won’t be able to relax on that end of the court. It’s possible he comes off the bench to spell 3&D specialist, Lu Dort, in his first game back.

Giddey Under Close Watch

Instead of taking this blurb to write about what Josh Giddey brings on the court, I’ll bring up the current situation which is under investigation for. The serious allegations of an alleged relationship with a minor shouldn’t be something we ignore. The very fact that he is still suiting up and playing amid this case speaks volumes to what the NBA (and for the most part, American professional sports) thinks of women’s safety. This is a disturbing trend for the league, even considering what’s going on with Miles Bridges in Charlotte, to just name one example of many. Terrible, terrible look.

In-Season Tournament Title Hopes

Friday’s loss to the Sacramento Kings was nearly a killing blow to the Wolves chances at making the quarterfinals of the in-season tournament bracket. They have a longshot at winning the group and even a slimmer chance at clinching the tiebreaker. Way out in the distance is the opportunity to snatch the wildcard spot from the Phoenix Suns. Today will be the final game of the group stage portion of the tournament and if you care about this stuff, you should be just as carefully watching the Kings versus Warriors game tonight. Our favorite radio voice, Alan Horton, breaks it down below.


Predictions

  • NAW and SGA get into a brief pushing match that ends with Rudy pretending to choke NAW to break the tension.
  • Wolves win, 118-112.