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Game Preview #29: Wolves at Thunder

Nickeil Alexander-Walker and co. head to Oklahoma City to take on his cousin and the high-powered Thunder

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

The Minnesota Timberwolves continue their travels in the West Coast slightly closer to home with a trip to visit the third-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder. There are no breaks for this Wolves crew as they close the 2023 calendar year against many high caliber west conference. The Thunder represent just one challenge along the gauntlet. They were able to pull out a 110-98 win against a resilient Sacramento Kings team without Karl-Anthony Towns but need to keep the good vibes rolling to take down a young and hungry Thunder squad. The Wolves got their small holiday vacation with two off days and now have to ramp it back up to finish the year strong.

Game Info

  • Who: Minnesota Timberwolves (22-6) at Oklahoma City Thunder (18-9)
  • When: Tuesday, December 26th at 7:00 PM CT
  • Where: Paycom Center — Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
  • TV: Bally Sports North
  • Radio: Wolves App Radio, iHeart Radio
  • Line: Wolves +2 | Total: 228 (courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook)

Injury Report

Updated as of 6:30 PM CT



  • Karl-Anthony Towns (left knee soreness)


  • Jaylen Clark (right achilles tendon rupture rehab)
  • Luka Garza (two-way contract)
  • Daishen Nix (two-way contract)

Oklahoma City


  • Josh Giddey (left ankle sprain)
  • Jalen Williams (non-COVID illness)

What to Watch For

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

Gobert vs. Holmgren

In the last matchup between these two teams, there was a lot of height battling down low for positioning. Rudy Gobert won that round, but rookie center Chet Holmgren has showed a lot of promise this season as a rookie in the league, He impacts the game on both ends of the floor. The 21-year-old is averaging 17.2 points and 8 rebounds to go along with a whopping 2.7 blocks on the defensive end. The St. Paul native is right in the mix for Rookie of the Year honors and is a huge part of the youth movement that is taking place in Oklahoma City. As a St. Paul native myself, I had the chance to play Chet Holmgren in high school and I can tell you first hand that he did not peak there. While I unfortunately couldn’t stop him all this years ago, I hand that burden off to Gobert, who has shown a much greater ability to shut him down. The Frenchman held the lanky rookie to 6/20 from the field in their first matchup.

Maybe we will even get another fist pump in the middle of the play.

This was the game that solidified the notion that Gobert is a different player this season than he was for the Wolves in the 2022-23 campaign. We all knew that he could effectively defend the rim but his ability to move his feet and absolutely harass Holmgren on this possession was him showing everyone just how good he is on that end of the floor. He has been a revelation for this Minnesota defense and can go toe-to-toe with the best, including some of the young talents that the league has to offer.

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

Jaden McDaniels on SGA

It will be interesting to see how the defensive matchups play out in this one as Jaden McDaniels was injured the last time that these teams matched up this season. Nickeil Alexander-Walker has shown great ability to give his cousin Shai Gilgeous-Alexander some problems in their last couple of matchups dating back to last season, and he does well on the smaller, quicker guards that traditionally give even the best defenders issues.

McDaniels will get the assignment to start the game but this might be the time where the Wolves decide to deploy Alexander-Walker on SGA to allow McDaniels to play off the ball and protect the rim on the back-side. While McDaniels is known as a great on-ball defender, he’s just as good of a rim defender. He rarely gets to showcase that skill because he is always getting the most difficult perimeter assignment on the defensive end. NAW gives Minnesota some flexibility in this way to be able to shut down an opposing star with multiple different players. If Jalen Williams (non-COVID illness) is able to go, having McDaniels check him while NAW takes SGA would be an interesting play.

In the clip above, ALL CITY NBA’s Tim Legler and Adam Mares detail just how phenomenal Alexander-Walker has been on the defensive end with his numbers in the PNR. He has the number one and number four spots in terms of defensive guard/big duos’ collective points per possession allowed on pick and roll defense. This is just one of the areas that he excels on that end of the floor and Gilgeous-Alexander should be in for a difficult night having McDaniels and NAW hounding him whenever he is trying to get a good look.

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

The Christmas Matchup That Should Have Been

As I am writing this, the Miami Heat are getting ready to take on the Philadelphia 76ers in what was supposed to be a marquee matchup with two of the best - Jimmy Butler and Joel Embiid. The NBA unfortunately put their eggs in the wrong basket. Both players are inactive with injuries that will be sure to impact the ratings on Christmas Day. The even better matchup will take place a day later as two young stars duke it out in what should be basketball excellence. From an objective basketball standpoint, this will be fun to watch two of the best offensive talents the league has to offer fight it out in a heavyweight bout between two of the best in the West.

This will hopefully be the last time that any of us have to bring this up as both of these teams deserve a spot in the popular Christmas Day games. Both players are young, hungry and on good teams. I can guarantee you this game will be much more fun than the majority of the matchups we all watched on Christmas.

Ok, I will get off my sour soapbox now. I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday and are enjoying Timberwolves basketball right now! I know I sure am.