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Game Preview #47: Wolves at Thunder

Anthony Edwards and the Timberwolves finish off their for-game road trip in Oklahoma City against Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and the Thunder in a battle for the top spot in the West

Oklahoma City Thunder v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images

After the demoralizing 113-112 loss on Saturday to the San Antonio Spurs, the Minnesota Timberwolves have the ultimate chance at a bounce-back game as they take currently share the top spot in the Western Conference with, the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Thunder are playing on the second night of a back-to-back after a demoralizing loss of their own as the Detroit Pistons won just their sixth game of the season beating the Thunder 120-104, behind a 46-point second quarter.

This will be the fourth and final meeting between the two teams with the Thunder taking two of the first three meetings. The winner of this game will earn not only the top spot in the Western Conference, but will put themselves in the driver’s seat for the number one seed come playoff time.


Game Info

  • Who: Minnesota Timberwolves (32-14) at Oklahoma City Thunder (32-14)
  • When: Monday, January 29 at 7:00 PM CT
  • Where: Paycom Center — Oklahoma City, OK
  • TV: Bally Sports North (Michael Grady and Jim Petersen)
  • Radio: Wolves Radio App, KFAN FM 100.3
  • Line: Thunder -2.5, Total: 223 (courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook)

Injury Report

Updated as of Monday 1/29 at 5:10 PM CT:

Minnesota

OUT

  • Jaylen Clark (right achilles tendon rupture rehab)
  • Mike Conley (left hamstring soreness)
  • Leonard Miller (G League assignment)
  • Josh Minott (G League assignment)

Oklahoma City

OUT

  • Ousmane Dieng (G League assignment)

What To Watch For

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

Rebounding and Turnovers

The last matchup between these two teams came just over a week ago when the Thunder bested the Timberwolves 102-97 at Target Center. The problem for the Wolves that night, as it has been all season long, was turnovers.

Minnesota turned it over 21 times in that game leading to 28 points off turnovers for the Thunder, more than a quarter of their points on the night. If the Wolves had taken care of the ball even a little bit better, they most likely convincingly win that game.

A lot of credit though should go to the Thunder as they have been phenomenal at forcing turnovers all season as they lead the NBA in turnovers forced at 15.9 per game. Compare that to the Wolves offense turning the ball over third most in the entire NBA at 15.2 per game, and that is a clear matchup advantage in favor of the Thunder.

The Timberwolves will need to take care of the ball about as well as they have all year to win tonight, as OKC will likely smell blood in the water and try to force Minnesota into turnovers as much as they can.

On the flip side, the advantage Minnesota has is its size. OKC is one of the smallest teams in the NBA and struggles to rebound the ball. OKC ranks in the bottom three in terms of total rebounding, offensive rebounding percentage, and defensive rebounding percentage.

The Wolves with their size can beat down the Thunder on the glass and gain extra possessions on both sides of the floor. The question for tonight’s game will be, which of these mismatches wins out over the other? Do the Wolves turn the ball over like they did in the last matchup, or are they able to take care of the ball and out-rebound the Thunder for a much-needed victory?


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

Mike Conley and Late Game Offense

On Saturday in San Antonio, the Timberwolves had another disastrous performance in the fourth quarter, blowing a double-digit lead to one of the worst teams in the NBA. It was the second time it had happened last week as they also lost to the Charlotte Hornets after leading by 15 heading into the fourth quarter.

It is no coincidence that Mike Conley missed both of these games as the 36-year-old point guard has been Minnesota’s guiding light in terms of clutch-time offense. The Wolves have looked like a completely different team late in games when they have their veteran guard out there.

With Conley questionable with hamstring soreness, Minnesota may need to quickly find a way to win without him if they hope to stay atop the Western Conference. Not just for tonight, but for down the stretch of the season when resting the aging Conley could become advantageous for the playoffs.

There are some areas that the coaching staff can help facilitate productive fourth quarter offense including running more set plays and having rotations that better value spacing via three-point shooters. Ultimately, it is up to the players to keep the offense running well for all 48 minutes and to execute consistently late in games.


Oklahoma City Thunder v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images

Battle for the No. 1 Seed

The Minnesota Timberwolves and Oklahoma City Thunder come into this matchup with identical 32-14 records and both currently sit at the top of the Western Conference standings.

The winner of tonight’s matchup will not only become the sole possessor of the number one spot but will earn a potentially key win in terms of the tiebreaker over the other team.

This is the fourth and final time the Timberwolves and Thunder will match up with the Thunder taking two of the first three. With a win, the Thunder would gain a game on the Wolves in the standings, but also secure them the head-to-head tiebreaker over Minnesota.

If the Wolves were to win, they would tie the season series at two, leaving the tiebreaker in the hands of division and then conference record. With a win, the Wolves would tie the Thunder in division win percentage and lead them in conference record.

It may seem early to be concerned about tiebreakers, but given this is the final matchup between the two teams and how close they’ve been in the standings all year, it may come down to which team won more head-to-head games when the regular season is over.

With each team coming off losses they would like to forget, it will be interesting to see how each team responds. If either team lets the one loss bleed into this game, they will likely be in for a rough night.