Two Western Conference counterparts looking to end losing skids meet Friday when the host Oklahoma City Thunder welcome the Minnesota Timberwolves to town.
Minnesota comes into Friday’s matchup trying to snap a three-game losing streak and salvage the last outing on a five-game road swing.
The Timberwolves began the trip moving a game above .500 for the season with their third win in four contests, beating Utah on Dec. 9, 118-108. But since losing 124-118 the next night in Portland, Minnesota has dropped to two games below .500.
A second straight loss to the Trail Blazers on Monday and the team’s worst offensive performance of the season in a 99-88 defeat at the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday highlighted a rough stretch that has coincided with the absence of two-time All-NBA honoree Karl-Anthony Towns.
Towns has been out of the lineup since Nov. 30 with a calf injury. D’Angelo Russell also missed Wednesday’s game with a knee injury and is listed as questionable for Friday.
With the absence of Towns and Russell, Minnesota’s second-and-third-leading scorers, Los Angeles focused its defense primarily on leading scorer Anthony Edwards. He finished with 19 points on 6-of-14 shooting from the floor, marking his third performance scoring less than his 22.5-point per game average in the last four outings for the Timberwolves.
“He stayed patient,” Minnesota coach Chris Finch said in his postgame press conference of Edwards. “They were trapping him and made it hard on him to stay within the flow of the game.”
The Timberwolves will try to jump-start their offense on Friday against one of the NBA’s most porous defenses.
Oklahoma City has allowed 117.4 points per game, the third-highest yield in the league through games played on Wednesday. However, the Thunder held two of their last three opponents to fewer points than their season-long average – yet lost both times.
A 110-108 defeat Wednesday against Miami marked Oklahoma City’s fourth consecutive loss, and came two games after dropping a 110-102 decision to Cleveland on Saturday.
While the Oklahoma City defense has struggled throughout the campaign, the Thunder offense has been an issue during the current losing streak. The team has averaged 106.5 points per game over the last four, nine points a contest fewer than its season average.
Coming out of the matchup with Miami, one of the NBA’s top defensive teams, Oklahoma City coach Mark Daigneault praised the team’s effort to outscore the Heat in the second half, 56-46.
“In the first half, Miami was the aggressor,” he said during his postgame press conference. “I thought we got that course corrected after halftime. Their defense is tough to play against. I thought that was kind of an acquired taste for us to play against, and the way we attacked in the second half was excellent.”
The backcourt duo of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey led the way with 27 and 19 points, respectively. The same pair posted 33 and 21 points when Oklahoma City and Minnesota last met, a 135-128 Thunder victory on Dec. 3.
Friday’s matchup is the fourth and final between the teams this season. Minnesota won a pair in October, 115-108 on both squads’ opening night, and 116-106 in Oklahoma City just four days later.
–Field Level Media