Photo Credits: Coby Van Loan/OKC Thunder
Oklahoma City Thunder (9-11) vs. Minnesota Timberwolves (5-16)
Tip Off: 7pm CST
Where to Watch: FSOK
The Oklahoma City Thunder are entering this game after concluding their mini-series vs. Houston in which they got pounced on Monday, but capped things off with an emphatic 104-87 win despite Shai Gilgeous-Alexander being absent. For Minnesota, they are coming off a heart-crushing 111-108 loss against the Spurs in which the T-Wolves led as much as 16 points in the final period.
This will be the second mini-baseball set for the both teams, as they will play again on Saturday.
The Thunder will be missing Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (knee), George Hill (thumb), and Luguentz Dort (knee.)
Note: Oklahoma City will be playing this game with just nine players active, one above the league’s minimum.
The Timberwolves Karl-Anthony Towns (COVID-19 Protocols) and Jarrett Culver (ankle) will be out indefinitely, but outside of those two—a lot of decisions have to be made eligibility wise in the hours leading up to the game.
Juancho Hernangomez (conditioning) and D’Angelo Russell (quadriceps) are listed as questionable for Friday’s contest, while Naz Reid (wrist) is seen as probable to play.
Thunder’s Keys to the Game:
Stop the Wolves’ Pack Leaders
Minnesota has won just 1 of their last 6 games, but reading between the lines, the team’s wheels have been churning since last week. The T-Wolves have gone 1-2 in their last three games but their losses were by a paltry 2 and 3 points to the Cavaliers and Spurs respectively.
The reasoning for why Minnesota has been making this past week has been the emergence of three players.
Malik Beasley has led the Wolves in scoring this season, posting 20.1 points a game off 46% shooting from the field and 37.5% from outside. Beasley’s ability to score at all three levels has allowed him to take such a large jump from his Denver days until now. If D’Angelo Russell does not step foot on the floor, attention needs to be shifted towards the 6-foot-4 shooting-guard, as he has been scorching hot dropping 20+ in five of his last six games.
Anthony Edwards was classified as an entitled athlete who almost waddled himself into the first pick this season, but as of late he has been proving doubters wrong. The Georgia product has also flashed the ability to create shots from everywhere, and in his last seven games he has, averaging 17.3 points in that span. Simply put—you cannot let a player with Edwards skillset run rampant, because he will make you pay.
Naz Reid has been a pleasant surprise for the Wolves in replacement of Karl-Anthony Towns. The 6-foot-9 center has racked up 11.8 points and 5.0 boards in just 22 minutes a night, and his versatility has made him a real threat to opposing sides. Reid has had a his moments anchoring his way inside, but his 41.8% shooting from outside may push Al Horford out of his comfort zone.
Brilliance from the Breakfast Club
The usual second unit for Oklahoma City scored 69 points in Wednesday’s matchup vs. the Rockets, and similar numbers may be called upon for another win. With Shai, Hill, and Dort out get again, and with a depleting roster of just nine players, the bench unit will need to provide yet again.
In the starting unit it is to be expected that Theo Maledon will play at the one, Diallo, at the two and Kenrich Williams taking Dort’s role at the three.
If that is the case, Theo Maledon will need to be a main distributor and creator tonight. His 2-of-12 shooting was saved by illustrious play on the defensive end, but another big scoring night for the 19-year-old could give OKC the upper hand.
Hamidou Diallo will be called upon to do much of the scoring duties once again with SGA out, and his consistency around the basket is no fluke, the question is—how often will we see him slashing to the rack?
Kenrich Williams came off arguably his greatest game in a Thunder jersey, pouring in 19 points on 7-8 shooting and Wednesday, and his style of play should remain the same tonight. Williams will likely be up on undersized defenders for a long stretch of the game, if he can assert himself on cuts and drives to the basket his points should come in bunches. Defensively, he has been a leader all season on the bench, we’ll see if his prowess translated if he starts.
Off the bench Isaiah Roby will see an extended time of run. The now 23-year-old scoring 13 points in Wednesday’s game, and he could be the change of pace at the five position to assist in downing the Wolves. The main think to monitor in his play tonight—how he orchestrates the high-ball screens.
Forwards Justin Jackson and Darius Miller will almost undoubtedly see more minutes for the night, and it poses a big opportunity for both of them. Justin Jackson has had the tendency to jack up a variety of threes and long-runners in short spans of time, and with the bench drained, he may have the time to shine. Darius Miller played 10 minutes on Wednesday and has struggled to crack regular minutes, this short be a good benchmark to see if Miller holds up against one of the bottom-dwellers in the league.
Darius Bazley has slowly risen back up to averaging double-digits with near double-figures in the rebounding category, and he has been gifted his biggest shot of the year to make a breakthrough. Bazley’s ball-handling and driving ability has been a nightmare for other sides, and with Timberwolves down heavy in the frontcourt, he’ll most likely be taking an undersized man. The 20-year-old’s knack inside has become more prominent since the new year and he should have the means to put it on display with SGA being out. Expect to see a side dish of three pointers and kick-outs from the forward.