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Timberwolves probably don’t have the tools to tango with the Thunder

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If you can’t shoot threes, you can’t beat OKC.

Look within.
W. Bennett Berry

The Thunder and Wolves meet for the first time the the season. As division rivals, the Thunder and Wolves meet four times a year. In the post-Kevin Love era, Thunder-Wolves matchups have generally been dominated by OKC. But with Minnesota’s next generation of talent coming into their own, this will be a matchup to watch moving forward.

Previously, the Thunder and Wolves met in the Pre-Season, on October 16th. Oklahoma City dominated that matchup, 112-94. Westbrook finished with an efficient 28 points and 10 assists. Steven Adams was also particularly impressive, going for 20 points, 11 rebounds, and 4 blocks. The Wolves did not play any of their starters.

Thunder: Still Strong, if not Invincible

The Thunder were on an emotional high with their 4-0 start. But with their second game of a back to back being in Golden State, the Thunder weren’t able continue that run. After a brilliantly executed first quarter, the Thunder lost steam when Westbrook hit the bench. Worse still, Durant got extended time against OKC’s second unit and Jerami Grant. Durant was able to score with ease. By the time Westbrook came back in, the momentum was already well in Golden State’s favor.

This leaves the Thunder with a lot of questions. How much of a role will Enes Kanter get moving forward? Kanter was only on for three minutes before Donovan decided Kanter’s defense was too ineffective. This wasn’t the first time Kanter rode the pine, as Kanter only got 13 minutes against the Phoenix Suns. It appears Kanter won’t get much time against young and fast teams. Against the traditionally built Wolves, Kanter will be well used.

Victor Oladipo, despite shooting 63% and scoring 21 points, registered a -25 +/- ratio in OKC’s loss to Golden State. Oladipo has had a really rocky start with the Thunder, but continues to get looks on offense. It’s awful when Kanter can’t play with the second unit, because that puts way too much responsibility on Oladipo. Grant is an excellent defensive addition, but won’t provide much offense. And Joffrey Lauvergne is pretty much a Kanter replacement, though Lauvergne can play with Kanter when the game gets especially slow.

Wolves: Young and Exciting

It’s been a bit of a rocky start for the young Timberwolves, as the team is stuck with a 1-3 record. That’s to say nothing of the team’s competitiveness, as all three of the team’s losses have been by four points or less. New Coach Tom Thibodeau clearly knows how to organize winning basketball, and the Timberwolves finally have the talent to achieve those wins. But the youth of the Wolves may be what, ultimately, is holding them back from filling their full potential. Indeed, with the injury to 26 year old Ricky Rubio, the oldest starter, the Wolves got even younger. Kris Dunn, a 21 year old rookie out of Providence College, now starts at point guard. Tyus Jones, merely 20 and in his second year out of Duke, now takes over backup PG duties.

Three veteran players do seem to help off the bench. Nemanja Bjelica, a 28 year old forward, has played on many successful teams during his time in Europe. Brandon Rush has had successful stretches in the NBA as a three and D wing. And Cole Aldrich, a ghost of our draft busted past, is as good a backup center as any. Obviously, though, it’s rare to see any of these guys in at the end of the game.

This year, the clear leaders appear to be Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Zach LaVine. All are entitled to 15 or 16 possessions per game, and score around 20 points each. Wiggins is a pure scorer, usually getting the ball in position to shoot. But LaVine and Anthony-Towns are more effective decision makers. LaVine will pass around screens, while Anthony-Towns will pass out of double teams. But none of the three can be trusted to manage the team’s offense. Rubio is the ideal partner for these three offensive stars, because Rubio is probably the best passer and pass decision maker in the entire league. But Kris Dunn and Tyus Jones appear to be capable of getting the ball into the right places. And neither Dunn nor Jones will be used for offense!

How Tonight’s Game Will Go

The Timberwolves will likely have some problems with turnovers, with the sudden change in point guards. I’m also betting that Adams will be more than a match for Karl-Anthony Towns. I’m even confident about Roberson’s ability to handle Andrew Wiggins, since Roberson has such long arms. But Zach LaVine will likely be a threat. Given that OKC is at home and on a day’s rest, I’m confident in their ability to shut this young Wolves team down. Also, the Wolves’ sub-par three point shooting won’t allow them to take advantage of OKC’s steal-first defense.

Also, do the Timberwolves have anyone who can halt Westbrook? No way? No way!

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 95, Minnesota Timberwolves 89.

What do you think of tonight’s game? Drop a comment and let us know!

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Injuries: Ricky Rubio (Out), Nikola Pekovic (Out), Cameron Payne (Out)

Time: 5:00 PM Central Daylight Time

Place: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

TV: FSOK, FSN