Game: Oklahoma City Thunder @ Minnesota Timberwolves
Time: 9:30 p.m.
Odds: Thunder +5.5, TWolves -5.5
The Oklahoma City Thunder’s rebuilding project is slightly ahead of schedule. When the Thunder play the Minnesota Timberwolves tonight in Minneapolis, they are just one victory away from being invited to the NBA playoffs. Not many thought the Thunder would even have that chance.
After defeating the host New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday by a score of 123-118, Oklahoma City is now in a good position to make the playoffs. After losing to the host Los Angeles Lakers in overtime on Tuesday, 108-102, the Timberwolves are now in tonight’s loser-goes-home game.
Since Rudy Gobert punched teammate Kyle Anderson during a timeout in last Sunday’s regular-season finale against New Orleans, Minnesota has found itself in chaos. Now, Gobert is in danger of missing tonight’s game due to back spasms. He didn’t play against the Lakers after being suspended for the game. Gobert was described as “uncertain” by Timberwolves coach Chris Finch during a press conference on Thursday. Gobert claimed that if he hadn’t been suspended, his back problems were so severe that he would have missed the game against the Lakers anyway.
Anderson, who had a stellar all-around game against Los Angeles with 12 points, 13 assists, five rebounds, four steals, and four blocked shots, claimed to have made amends with Gobert. Gobert said that he is family and sometimes family will have disagreements.
The fact that Minnesota is still in the running for a spot is not surprising, but the Thunder weren’t supposed to continue playing after the regular season ended. Oklahoma City was predicted to be one of the worst teams in the NBA this season. Over the previous two seasons, OKC had a combined record of 46-108. When No. 2 overall pick Chet Holmgren suffered a season-ending foot injury prior to the season, it seemed even more likely that the Thunder would struggle.
The team that will have 15 first-round picks over the course of the next five seasons is instead far ahead of schedule. And as they outperformed the Pelicans late in the game, the Thunder appeared to be the more experienced team. OKC has played in a ton of close games over the past three seasons.
In the second half against New Orleans, leading scorer Shia Gilgeous-Alexander scored 25 of his game-high 32 points. He scored eight baskets in the final 1:40, including the one with 28.3 seconds left that gave the Thunder a permanent lead. Josh Giddey added 31 points, 10 assists, and nine rebounds, while Lu Dort scored 27 points. A win tonight would earn the Thunder the No. 8 seed in the West. They would face the top-seeded Denver Nuggets in a first-round playoff matchup.
Despite having 24 points, 11 rebounds, and five assists against the Lakers, Karl-Anthony Towns struggled after picking up his fifth foul. Mike Conley led the Timberwolves with 23 points and six three-pointers while Anthony Edwards scored just nine points for Minnesota, which blew a 15-point third-quarter lead. After missing the playoffs in 16 of the prior 17 seasons, the Timberwolves are attempting to make the postseason for the second straight year.
This season, the Timberwolves had a 3-1 record against the Thunder. Oklahoma City’s lone victory occurred on December 3 in Minneapolis.
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