The Oklahoma City Thunder are getting set for the first game of a back-to-back with the Timberwolves. The Thunder will welcome in the Wolves to Chesapeake Energy Arena on Friday and Saturday night to complete this week of OKC Thunder basketball. The Thunder will have to do so short-handed. Not only are they without the four players they sent to the G-League Bubble (Aleksej Pokusevski, Ty Jerome, Josh Hall, Moses Brown), the Thunder will also miss star point-guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Knee), starting guard George Hill (Thumb), and defensive mastermind Lu Dort (Knee). All of that moving and shaking leaves them with nine players for now. A note on availability: If Al Horford continues to rest on the second night of back-to-backs, and if neither Dort nor Shai Gilgeous-Alexander can return Saturday, OKC will only have eight players for Saturday. Mark Daigneault will talk with the media at 5:15, where we will get more clarification on the extent of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s and Lu Dort’s injuries. We already know George Hill is out at least four weeks.
For the Timberwolves Karl-Anthony Towns is out, D’Angelo Russell is Questionable, Naz Reid is probable, Jarrett Culver is out, and Juancho Hernangomez is questionable. This has the possibility to be an ugly game if both sides are truly without their best players to come tip-off time.
The Thunder will need an aggressive night from Al Horford in this game. After Dort left Wednesday’s contest, Horford became to take command of the Thunder offense and pick up the slack left by Hill, Dort, and SGA’s absence. That will be the recipe for success tonight as well.
Another thing to watch for, is who steps up off the bench? On Wednesday, it was Kenny Hustle going for 19 points, perfect from beyond the arc, adding some huge rebounds and stellar defense. Seeing who picks up the slack in this game will be interesting because it seems as though every game the Thunder see a new surprise performance.
These two games are huge for each side, specifically for the Thunder. If the Oklahoma City Thunder want to continue to hang around and be in the hunt for the play-in tournament, they have to capture at least a split in this series with Minnesota. Obviously, a sweep would be more desirable, but the Thunder would need to overcome a lot of adversity to make that happen. Why are these games so important? Not only does each game mean more in a shortened season, but specifically these two-games mean more before the Thunder finish out the month by playing the Lakers, Bucks, and Nuggets two times each as well as other playoff hopefuls throughout the month. The rest of this month will be an uphill battle, so stealing a game or two of this series will truly go a long way. The Thunder will know exactly where they stand in the pantheon of NBA teams at the end of this month. These games against Minnesota go a long way in deciding that. If they can not salvage at least one win against the lowly Wolves, it leaves OKC even more behind the eight ball before taking on the aforementioned title contenders.
For Locked on Thunder listeners In this game, the line is a pick-em, so the bet of the day will be Oklahoma City. I think the Thunder are better coached and that will be the difference as both head coaches deal with a less than 100-percent roster. For the Moneyball bet of the day, who will lead the team in 3-pointers? I have Mike Muscala catching fire from deep off the Thunder bench.