After a thrilling first round of the play-in tournament, only two more spots remain for the 2023 NBA playoffs. With the Oklahoma City Thunder getting ready to face the Minnesota Timberwolves on the road this Friday, it is time for some Thunder bold predictions..
Oklahoma City had one of the most surprising campaigns of the 2022-23 season. After being projected to finish at the bottom of the standings, OKC went 40-42 to secure the final play-in spot in the Western Conference—a 16-win improvement compared to the previous year.
In their first play-in game this week, the Thunder defeated the New Orleans Pelicans 123-118 on the road.
On the other side of the matchup, the Timberwolves went 42-40 in the regular season and ended with the No. 8 seed. The team had four fewer wins than it had in 2021-22.
Against the Los Angeles Lakers in the play-in, Minnesota managed to force overtime at the Crypto.com Arena. Unfortunately for the Wolves, they fell to LeBron James, Anthony Davis and company 108-102.
These teams are on opposite sides of the momentum spectrum, which could play a role on Friday. Still, a do-or-die game can always bring the unexpected. With that being said, here are three bold predictions for the Oklahoma City Thunder in their 2023 NBA Play-In Tournament game versus the Minnesota Timberwolves.
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3. Thunder hold Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards to less than 50 points combined
If there is a duo that Oklahoma City should make a plan to stop, it is Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards. Both players have been impactful since entering the league and could be X-factors on Friday.
Towns averaged 20.8 points, 8.1 rebounds and 4.8 assists this season. He shot 49.5% from the field, 36.6% from the 3-point line and 87.4% from the charity stripe. However, he only appeared in 29 games in the regular season due to injuries.
Without Rudy Gobert against the Lakers, Towns had a double-double with 24 points and 11 boards, plus five assists and three blocks.
Edwards put up a team-best 24.6 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.4 assists with 1.6 steals a night. He made 45.9% of his field goals, 36.9% of his 3-pointers and 75.6% of his free throws en route to the first All-Star selection of his career.
However, versus the Lakers, Edwards had only nine points on 3-for-17 shooting, including missing all nine of this three-point attempts.
While Towns dealt with injuries throughout most of the season and Edwards is coming off a poor showing, the Thunder cannot ignore them. The team will need all the help it can get from Luguentz Dort and the rest of the roster to contain both stars.
The bold prediction is that OKC will hold the duo to less than 50 points combined. Should that happen, the Thunder should have a better chance to upset the Wolves.
2. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander goes off with a 35-point performance
As for the Thunder, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander should be the one to keep an eye on. The young star guard is coming off his first All-Star campaign and is a legit contender for the Most Improved Player Award, let alone a First Team All-NBA selection.
Gilgeous-Alexander averaged a career-high 31.4 points, 5.5 assists and 4.8 rebounds in addition to 1.6 steals and a block per game. His shooting splits were 51% from the field, 34.5% from beyond the arc and 90.5% from the free-throw line.
Against the Pelicans on Wednesday, SGA had a rough first half with seven points. He then bounced back with 25 in the second half, leading his team to a comeback victory at Smoothie King Center.
Following his big final stretch versus New Orleans, Gilgeous-Alexander could keep his hot hand on Friday. The bold prediction is that he will finish the day with a 35-point performance. In the regular season, he averaged 33.3 points in three games against Minnesota, so it is not hard to imagine him hitting that mark.
1. Game is decided in the final minute
At the end of the day, this should be a thrilling encounter between two young teams with the next generation of talent in the NBA.
The Timberwolves are the favorites to win and advance to the playoffs to face the No. 1 Denver Nuggets, according to FanDuel. Currently, the spread is -5.
With Gilgeous-Alexander playing the best basketball of his career, OKC could pull off another upset. The supporting cast of Dort, Josh Giddey and Jalen Williams could also provide crucial baskets if needed.
On the other side, Edwards will have a chip on his shoulder after disappointing against the Lakers. Also, Gobert could be back in the lineup after missing his team’s previous game due to a suspension. With the big man on the court, it could be much more difficult for Gilgeous-Alexander and the Thunder to finish at the rim.
The bold prediction is that this game will come down to the wire, likely being decided in the final minutes and last possessions. Even with the matchup happening in Minnesota, it could go either direction.
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