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Thunder vs. Timberwolves preview: How will Oklahoma City respond to Roberson injury?

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The Thunder are better than the Wolves, but the defensive hole left by Andre Roberson is going to limit the ways they can play.

William Bennett Berry

Where They At: Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder almost got swept in New York, but they're poised to win three of four on this road trip despite pairing underwhelming performances with an incomplete starting lineup. The New York Knicks win was nearly a disappointing defeat, the Madison margin too close for comfort. But the excitement of overtime at the Garden announced by Walt Frazier turned the fan experience from frightful to delightful.

The team is clearly going to miss Andre Roberson, and Billy Donovan looks likely to simply lean more on Dion Waiters (43 minutes last night) in his absence. That went okay against the Knicks (14 points for Waiters on 6-10 shooting), but it's not going to be the norm. It's inexplicable that Cameron Payne played huge in the moment, hitting 4-4 from three and reviving the Thunder's hopes in the fourth quarter, only to be rewarded with a seat on the bench for the final 9:28 of game clock. In an overtime game without their starting 2-guard, Payne (16 minutes), Kyle Singler (13), and Anthony Morrow (7) played sparingly. I don't think Donovan is in any hurry to figure out how to better distribute backcourt minutes.

Where They At: Minnesota Timberwolves

The Wolves are playing a better than they were the last time the Thunder bopped on their heads a couple times in a week. They still can't guard, but they've pushed the Dallas Mavericks and Cleveland Cavaliers in close games, beaten the Memphis Grizzlies, and crushed the Phoenix Suns since their drubbing in Oklahoma City.

Karl-Anthony Towns has been great lately, and Andrew Wiggins has been Minnesota's best player over this stretch. As nobly as Waiters fought in the many head-scratching post-ups by Aaron Afflalo down the stretch, Wiggins is another animal entirely, and very well could eat up everyone the Thunder throw at him.

The Matchup

The Thunder are still better than the Wolves, but the defensive hole left by Roberson is going to limit the ways they can play. Dion's leash is lengthened and Enes Kanter's is shortened. If Kanter can't make up for his bullfighting on D with hyper-efficient play on offense, he's not going to get much run, in which case the Thunder will need more heroics from Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to outscore the opponent.

All things even, the Thunder would take this. But there are too many factors working against them: no Robes, finishing a road trip on a back-to-back after an overtime game, and a rested Wolves team on a decent run.

Prediction: Wolves 115 Thunder 111

2015-16 NBA Season Game #
(Won 1)

(Lost 1)
January 27th, 2015
Target Center, Minneapolis
7:00 PM Central Standard Time
TV: Fox Sports Oklahoma, Fox Sports North, NBA League Pass
Injury Report: Andre Roberson (Out), Kevin Garnett (Out), Kevin Martin (Out)
This Season's Matchups: Jan. 12 (W 101-96), Jan. 15 (W 113-93)
Probable Starters
Russell Westbrook PG Ricky Rubio
Dion Waiters SG Andrew Wiggins
Kevin Durant SF Tayshaun Prince
Serge Ibaka PF Karl-Anthony Towns
Steven Adams C Nikola Pekovic