Where They At: Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder, sans an ejected Russell Westbrook, took care of business against the Mavericks’ junior varsity squad on Wednesday. Despite looking mediocre in losses and close wins against some bad teams of late, the fact remains that the Thunder are 17-4 over their last 21. They’ve improved on the road, kept making lineup adjustments, and acknowledged their weaknesses from the top down.
I’m growing more confident in how Billy Donavan’s lineup management will look in the playoffs (when any dumpster-fire-five-man-bench-unit isn’t necessary), but still unconvinced that the team can play with the mustard it wants to on both offense and defense. With their oddly-fitting blend of athleticism, IQ, and lack thereof across the roster, it seems inevitable that either their scheme, their heads, or their skillsets will fail them against quality offenses.
Where They At: Minnesota Timberwolves
After giving the Thunder a run for their money on Tuesday night, the Wolves did the same in Houston, losing to the Rockets by 3. They’ve fallen off of a cliff after a surprisingly competitive early start to the season. They’re riding an eight-game losing streak in the midst of losing 12 of 13, and 16 of their last 20. The Wolves got Nikola Pekovic back, but it looks like they’ll be alternating games between he and Kevin Garnett to give both some R&R throughout the season (it’s KG’s turn to start tonight).
Oddly enough, Wolves coach Sam Mitchell employs a similar lineup strategy to that of the Thunder: a defensive force of a starting unit that he doesn’t trust to close games (Ricky Rubio, Andrew Wiggins, Tayshaun Prince, Garnett/Pekovic, Karl-Anthony Towns). I was with the conventional take that Mitchell was a poor fit for this team, leaning too much on veterans to try and win games rather than develop their core players in-game. But this revealing interview with Britt Robson at MinnPost was a reminder to me that a lot goes into development and playing time that the fan just can’t see. Mitchell appears to be bringing the Wolves up to speed, development-wise, the polar opposite of what popular perception of his tenure has been.
The Wolves couldn’t beat the lackadaisical Thunder on their home court, and I don’t see them pulling it off on the road. The main question for this game is whether, and for how long, the Thunder put it in cruise control. They should know better, so anything short of a blowout would be disconcerting.
Prediction: Thunder 115 Wolves 101
|2015-16 NBA Season Game #41|
|January 15th, 2015|
|Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City|
|6 PM Central Standard Time|
|TV: ESPN, Fox Sports Oklahoma, Sportsnet One|
|Injury Report: Nikola Pekovic (Doubtful)|
|This Season's Matchups: Jan. 12 (W 101-96)|
|Ricky Rubio||PG||Russell Westbrook|
|Andrew Wiggins||SG||Andre Roberson|
|Tayshaun Prince||SF||Kevin Durant|
|Kevin Garnett||PF||Serge Ibaka|
|Karl-Anthony Towns||C||Steven Adams|