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Thunder, Timberwolves clash on Wednesday
By: Sam Chase - StatFox
Published: 1/8/2018  at  6:08:00 AM
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OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER (22-18)

at MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES (25-16)

Tip-off: Wednesday, 8:00 p.m. ET
Line: NA, Total: NA

The Timberwolves will be hoping to make a statement with a win over the Thunder on Wednesday.

Given the influx of talent that each team received over the summer, the recurring matchup between the Timberwolves and Thunder has become one of the most compelling divisional rivalries in all of the NBA this season. And, given that the Thunder has picked up the quality of its play recently, it could even be a preview of a first-round playoff matchup in the Western Conference. The two teams meet for the fourth and final time this season on Wednesday in Minnesota. For the Thunder, it will be the second night of a back-to-back, as OKC will play Portland at home the night before. All three matchups thus far this season between the Thunder and Wolves have had a margin of victory of four points or fewer, with Minnesota winning two October showdowns and OKC winning 111-107 at home on Dec. 1.

A 14-point loss to the Suns notwithstanding, the Thunder have began to play excellent basketball lately. Much of that can be attributed to the ascendance of SF Paul George, who struggled to find his exact role in the OKC offense in his first couple months with the team. That is no longer the case. When PG13 dropped 31 points on 16 shots in 35 minutes against the Clippers last Thursday, it was his sixth straight game with at least 24 points. He's also a force on defense, easily leading the entire league in steals per game. Of course, the dominant end on both ends of the floor for Oklahoma City—for better or worse—is PG Russell Westbrook. He's a walking triple-double again this season, posting three of them in a four game stretch last week. He won't lead the league in scoring again this year, but he's set to be the only player in the league over 10 assists per game. Everyone understands intuitively that SF Carmelo Anthony should be a distant third in the Thunder's "Big Three," including, recently, him. He's looked efficient in being more selective with shot attempts recently, and the entire team has benefited as a result. C Steven Adams is still a bruiser, providing a solid anchor for the Thunder defense. SG Andre Roberson has become rightly known for his horrific shooting, but tremendously undervalued as an incredible defender.

Such enormous expectations have surrounded enormous Minnesota C Karl-Anthony Towns, that it's easy to forget Towns just turned 22 years old this season. His defense and motor have come under fire, but a 25-point, 23-rebound performance in Boston should serve as a reminder for just how dominant he can be. The next night, he dropped 21 and 16. He played 77 minutes between the two games. He and SF Jimmy Butler have generally shared lead scoring duties this season, with Butler showing all-around excellence against New Orleans on Saturday with 21 points, seven rebounds and eight assists. He also brings a blue-collar attitude to a young locker room. His presence may or may not have stalled the development of SF Andrew Wiggins, who isn't exactly looking like a max contract player despite having become just that this past offseason. He has played well in 2018, though, scoring efficiently and shooting accurately from three-point range. PG Jeff Teague is averaging over 13 points per game this year, but went down at the end of December with a knee injury and figures to be out for a couple more weeks. PG Tyus Jones is his replacement; the team is not particularly deep in the backcourt--even if you count Butler as a two-guard. PF Taj Gibson is averaging double-figure scoring, as well, and is a strong interior defender.

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