By Winter, Goatbrook and Ya mudda
TV: Fox Sports North
Time: 7:00 CST
Setting: Target Center
Position of Sun: On the other side of the world.
Outside Temperature: 0° F or less
The Game: Oklahoma City Thunder @ Minnesota Timberwolves
11 games ago, Minnesota began a precipitous fall from mediocre, to simply plain terrible. A singular win against a depleted Utah Jazz team is the one, in 1-of-11. That “one” is surrounded by losses against such current bottom-dwelling clubs named “The 76’ers” and “The Nuggets”.
Now Minny is playing a stretch of facing four consecutive teams for the first time all season, Minnesota plays the third of four such match-ups against the Oklahoma City Thunder, tonight. The Cleveland Cavaliers and the Dallas Mavericks have since beaten Minnesota in convincing fashion. There was not much doubt in my mind that Dallas would ever lose to this outfit, they have Dirk Nowitzki, and he closed the game much like Dirk does. Right block, back to basket, turn-around and hits the jumper (Aided by a foul on Euro transfer/NBA rookie Nemanja Bjelica). Cleveland curb crushed the meager second half effort Minnesota tried to put together. Nolo contendere. Where was the energy that won Minnesota the season-series-sweep of Atlanta earlier this year?
Last year’s series went the Thunder’s way in each contest. 4-0, OKC. Minnesota looks to end a dreadful slump against the Thunder. That much is for sure.
Key Points against Oklahoma City
The Thunder lost their previous game due to Dame Lillard blazing a path through the porous defense in the last three minutes. Lillard brought Portland back and ended up sinking the final three, a contested shot over plus-defender Andre Roberson to lead his team to victory. Losses like this have been unusually common this year against Oklahoma City. Their perimeter defense has not been as strong this year as the previous. Maybe it is new coach Billy Donovan still figuring out how to gameplan defense, but the players still have to do their job, and there have been breakdowns. Minnesota can exploit this with Kevin Martin and potentially Zach Lavine, but the young Timberwolves have not shot well this year.
A second factor to this game will be the post matchup. Rookie, Karl Anthony-Towns will have a good offense/defense match-up with Steven Adams, but the pick and roll defense on star players like Westbrook and Durant could lead to foul trouble as Towns has experienced before. This is his first test against these two, and Westbrook especially, drives the lane with a force of will not matched in the NBA today.
Finally, the bench for Oklahoma City may play a role too. Enes Kanter can score but cannot defend reliably. Will Minnesota expose this as other teams have? We will see if Sam Mitchell and the young nucleus here can fare well against the explosive team from the southern plains. Minnesota’s bench has been inconsistent. However, Nikola Pekovic is back after a prolonged absence with ankle and Achilles problems. Maybe he can help expose Kanter. Shabazz Muhammed and Gorgui Dieng will have their moments to make an impact too.
The Thunder can't even beat the Blazers, so I'm not sure why the Wolves won't take the W tonight and put to shame whatever coaching acumen Billy Donovan has. 40 games in and the Thunder have lived up to their 3rd tier ranking in the league and has more losses than the Warriors and Spurs combined. The rest of the league thanks Sam Presti for not committing to tank for KAT, or at least Wolves fans thank him. The young Wolves team will look to take on the mediocre team that PResti crafted like a 5 year-old when you give them a jar of play-doh.
Sam Mitchell is better than Billy Donovan. That's pretty much all I got here.
It's beautiful, really, Presti lost Harden, Reggie jackson, and hell, the guy even lost Ish Smith. I've already preordered my Durant-Wolves jersey, and it looks fly.
Dion waiters. Lol Ya mudda, I'll leave this to you.
Oh, and for some reason, certain websites have been attacking DTW for not putting out enough material and lasting “only 2 weeks.” Sorry we don't need to remind our readers weekly that we play a few games the upcoming week. We trust our readers.
Match-ups to watch
Wiggins vs. Durant. Durant is ideally what we would all love for Wiggins’ ceiling to be. Wiggins has the tools to emulate KD’s game, but his jump shot just needs a lot of work to get anywhere close to where an early Durant was. Needless to say, this is probably a wash and Wiggins is going to get dominated, Durant is arguably the best scorer in the world and they are coming off a horrible loss to the Trailblazers, I expect him to make Wiggins look like a puppy, but hey every day is a new lesson learnt. Wolf-pups learn fast, I’ve been told.
Karl vs Adams. Steven Adams has been having a pretty good year, his game has taken strides offensively and defensively becoming a real force for the Thunder. Tonight Karl is going to have his hands full with Adams guarding him, I think he’s got enough tricks in the bag to get the better of Adams however, but he has to be wary of Ibaka lurking in the background whenever he posts up Adams. When it’s all said and done I expect Karl to put the hinges in.
Sam Mitchell vs. Billy Donovan. A matchup of two guys who are clearly out of their depth, Mitchell has the Wolves playing a weird style of basketball where they do not shoot 3s or actively look to get out in transition, which has obviously resulted in a bunch of losses. On the other hand the Thunder’s Donovan has utilized some very questionable line ups so far in his tenure as head coach which has resulted in a very iffy looking defense and a handful of those losses were to mediocre teams. Like the Sacramento Kings. Also early in the season there was talk about Donovan implementing a new offensive system, but where is it at though?
Lavine vs. Waiters. Personally (as usual with the Lavine post), this is a dream come through for me, to watch two of the most unintentionally hilarious guys match up against each other. Lavine has been slumping a bit recently and thus his play has toned down slightly where he is looking to make smart plays instead of looking for his shot or doing something flashy, which isn’t as fun but it’s good for the team. Also of note, Lavine was benched for the second half of the Dallas Mavericks loss while Old man Andre Miller ran the backup point. Waiters also looks like he’s in the same boat as Lavine, that horrible step back shot of his has been off recently and he’s been mostly quiet off the bench. Lavine has this match up the bag, like if he is outplayed by Dion Waiters I think it’s time to retire. Not Pictured: Tyus Jones.
Player Most Likely to have a career night against the Wolves: The Wolves have a habit of letting Durant and Westbrook run amok, but my sneak pick this game is defensive turnstile C Enes Kanter. The Wolves are actually a pretty poor offensive team, thus increasing Kanter's effectiveness. He could put up 20 and 10 tonight.
This Primer by GOATBROOK and Ya Mudda, Ft. Winter: Last year, Oklahoma City played a relatively rare game at full strength against the Wolves. Rookie Lavine was torched by Russell Westbrook all night, Durant and Adams played well, and since this matchup happened in December, the Thunder were without Enes Kanter and Dion Waiters. Every starter except Andre Roberson shot better than 50 percent. On the #FLIP side every Timberwolf who started was at least a negative-10 in plus/minus. Minnesota has been playing poorly in the second halves of games, for this one to be close the Wolves need to come out of halftime with energy and purpose.