• In the 23rd game of the season the Wolves will have already faced off with the Oklahoma City Thunder three times. Luckily they’re catching the Thunder at a good time. In recent past teams that have added multiple marquee players, aka “super teams”, have experienced early season struggles as the players acclimate to each other.

    The Thunder have been no exception. They come into this game with a record of 8-12 with losses in their last three games. Their offense ranks towards the bottom in terms of efficiency and volume. Negative attention has been surrounding them all season.

    On the other hand there is reason to believe things will turn around quickly. Their defense ranks among the very best in the NBA and their expected win-loss record is a reverse at 12-8, which says they have been hit with some bad luck.

    In any case the Wolves are able to catch the Thunder before they potentially go on an extended hot streak, which is good news as these are divisional games and the Wolves can hold the tie breaker with a win.

    The Thunder run their offense through their big three, with each taking at least 16 shots per game and no one else averaging more than eight. They tend to play at a slow pace, which is expected given the three primary players all create for themselves a fair share, thus pounding the rock to the hardwood for second on end.

    It doesn’t make for particularly pretty basketball to watch, but given each player is supremely talented offensively it gets the job done.

    Defensively Adams and Roberson carry the heavy load each night, but Westbrook and George are good when they’re trying on that end. Carmelo Anthony is the weak link here. When matched-up at the four he tends to hold up decently against less-mobile, interior forwards, but really struggles with active, lengthy stretch fours.

    He’s also vulnerable in the pick-and-roll, as he’ll neither fight through screens to reach his man or attack the ball-handler.

    Gibson isn’t a great stretch four, and the Wolves don’t use him in the pick-and-roll often, but he has the length on offense to give Melo problems, should the Wolves decide to attack him.

    Elsewhere Westbrook can get lazy and guard passing lanes instead of his man, so either Tyus Jones or Jeff Teague, if healthy, could have ample opportunities for open shots. Tyus in particular moves well without the ball and can cause problems.

    Speaking of Teague, his heath remains a question for this game though it looks like he’s leaning towards being active. It’s possible he’s active but on limited minutes as he works his way back. The Wolves don’t need to rush things with the way Tyus is playing.

    Bjelica remains in question as well. Reports have him further behind than Teague, but that remains unclear.

    Key Matchups:

    – Taj Gibson vs. Carmelo Anthony

    – Andrew Wiggins vs. Paul George

    Both matchups so far have been high scoring affairs and narrow victories for the Wolves. Neither bench has been much of a factor either. It’s going to come down to each team’s stars. The Wolves have done a decent job so far on Paul George, forcing him into more of a spot up shooter role in both games, taking only five combined free throws.

    Wiggins has been one of the most improved defenders on the team over the course of the season and they’ll turn to him once again to slow down George.

    Offensively for Wiggins he just needs to keep the ball moving and attack off the dribble. He’s cut down his long-twos in favor of 3-pointers, which is a good development as well. Some games the offense will flow through him and other times it won’t. He’s seemed to grasp that concept and focus in on the defensive end.

    At the other forward position, Gibson needs to continue to outplay Melo. He has been the best defensive option the Wolves can throw at Melo this season, who tends to favor playing with his back to the basket or off the dribble. Gibson has been able to stick with Melo on his drives thanks to his longer wingspan and still contest his shots.

    On the other end of the floor Melo has no shot at guarding Gibson. So long as Taj stays out of foul trouble it should be another good matchup for him. If not the Wolves don’t have anyone else to matchup Melo fairly.

    Projected Lineups:

    Jeff Teague – PG

    Jimmy Butler – SG

    Andrew Wiggins – SF

    Taj Gibson – PF

    Karl-Anthony Towns – C

    vs.

    Russell Westbrook – PG

    Andre Roberson – SG

    Paul George – SF

    Carmelo Anthony – PF

    Steven Adams – C

    Injuries:

    Nemanja Bjelica (foot) – OUT

    Justin Patton (foot) – OUT

    Jeff Teague (Achilles) – ACTIVE

    Where to Watch:

    8:00 ET/7:00 CT on Fox Sports North and on NBA.TV

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