GAME PREVIEW


Nick Gallo

By Nick Gallo | Broadcast Reporter and Digital Editor | mailbag@okcthunder.com



Quick Trip North for a Clash With the Wolves

Date: Jan. 13, 2020
Tip-Off Time: 7 p.m. CT
Television: Fox Sports Oklahoma
Radio: 98.1 FM WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network

Thunder Status

One bad quarter – the opening frame of Saturday’s loss at Chesapeake Energy Arena – sunk the Thunder against the Los Angeles Lakers, cutting short a hot stretch when OKC won 11 of 13 games and had ripped off a 16-5 record since Thanksgiving.

“These guys have done a good job the last several weeks, but tonight we just didn’t really quite play at the level I think we had been playing at,” said Head Coach Billy Donovan.

Now the Thunder travels north for a quick one-game trip to face a Northwest Division rival for the eighth time this season. OKC is 3-4 so far against division foes and will take on the Minnesota Timberwolves for the second of four battles this season.

Opponent Breakdown

All analysis of the Timberwolves must begin with Karl-Anthony Towns, regardless of whether or not he’s available to suit up. Towns has been listed as questionable with both a knee ailment and an illness over the past couple of games for the Timberwolves, which included a 139-109 road loss to the Houston Rockets on Saturday night. Towns has been effective and efficient all season as usual, putting up 26.5 points, 11.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game while shooting 51.4 percent from the floor and a bewildering 41.8 percent from the three-point line at 6-foot-11 and 248 pounds.

If Towns doesn’t go for Minnesota, it’ll be up to Andrew Wiggins and Jeff Teague to carry the load on Monday night. The last time the Thunder and Timberwolves met, Teague scored a season-high 32 points on 12-of-17 shooting to go with 9 assists.

Matchup Focus

This meeting between the OKC and Minnesota is the first since perhaps the most epic and stunning game of the Thunder’s season, a 139-127 overtime victory in Oklahoma City. The Thunder had a 10-point lead with 5:19 to go in regulation, but a trio of three-pointers not only got the Timberwolves back into the game but gave them a lead. A wild sequence inside the final four seconds included a pair of missed free throws by Timberwolves forward Jordan Bell, who was then assessed a technical foul for not tucking in his jersey.

Thunder forward Danilo Gallinari made the free throw, and with 1.1 seconds left and the Thunder down one with zero timeouts, Towns stepped to the line for the second of two free throws. Towns accidentally made the free throw despite trying to miss on purpose, giving Thunder center Steven Adams a chance to inbound the ball. He reared back, heaved a baseball pass nearly 90 feet right into the hands of a streaking Dennis Schröder, who collected, took one step and finished off glass to force overtime.

In the extra period, the Thunder outscored Minnesota 17-5, capping a night where five players scored 20-or-more points for the first time in the NBA since 2004. During the flow of the game, both teams shot over 50 percent from the field, but the Thunder was plus-20 at the free throw line, which will again be a huge stat in this battle. Whether or not the emotion and magic from the previous meeting trickles over, that past is prologue for Monday night’s clash.

“We have a bunch of competitors, and no matter what the score is, we’re going to give it our all,” said Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. “And honestly, we just love to play basketball, and we just play as hard as we can.”

Stat to Watch

An issue that took center stage in the Thunder’s loss to the Lakers was defensive rebounding, which came in the form of 12 second chances for Los Angeles which resulted in an unbelievable 28 points. The Lakers shot 11-of-12 after collecting an offensive rebound, meaning the Thunder was not only incorrectly positioned to box out, but also not in place to contest shots on the second jump.

“We have to do better keeping our bodies on them,” said Chris Paul.

From the flying pan into the fire go the Thunder, who face a Timberwolves team that have racked up 16.3 Second Chance points per game so far in January, third-best in NBA and over 2 more such points than its season average.

Thunder Trend

Despite the bad taste in the Thunder’s mouth from Saturday, this OKC squad has a chance to improve on its 22-17 record and also continue a string of strong play on the road. The Thunder is 5-1 over the last six games away from OKC, scoring 109.3 points per contest and outscoring its foes by 4.1 points per game. Eschewing any home cooking, the Thunder has defended without fouling, going to the free throw line 11.2 more times per game over the last six road contests.

The youngster Gilgeous-Alexander has amplified his road production, scoring 23.3 points on 54.5 percent shooting during that six-game stretch, while Schröder has continued to be blistering hot away from home, averaging 20.0 points on 49.4 percent shooting including 44.0 percent from three.

It’ll take those types of efforts again from the guards, including Paul, in addition to a fantastic two-way performance from Adams regardless of whether Towns plays, in order to get back to the win column on Monday.

“Our guys are constantly trying to get themselves up to that level where they can play to the very best of their ability,” Donovan said. “There’s a standard you want to play to, and for us, we can look and measure was that the standard we were capable of playing at?”

Twitter

OKC THUNDER4 hours 27 min ago

Northwest Division showdown at home. 📺» 8PM on @FOXSportsOK 🎟» https://t.co/9Ri0RrPaH1 https://t.co/T7sDcwVHVH

OKC THUNDER5 hours 27 min ago

Thunder’s Slow Start Leads to Loss at Home. Game Recap: Thunder 108, Heat 115 ⤵️

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