Minnesota is coming off a victory Friday over Utah, while the Oklahoma City Thunder enter Sunday’s game with the Timberwolves dealing with a humbling loss to the Jazz on Saturday.
If the Jazz are a barometer, the Thunder will be in trouble against Minnesota Sunday at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City.
However, the season is young — both teams are 1-1 — and Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan’s team will likely not score only 34 points in the first half on most nights. The total was less than the lowest output of 35 points last year.
That was the Thunder’s production against Utah in a 96-87 loss in Salt Lake City. They made only 2 of 14 shots from 3-point range in the first half and 11 of 33 for the whole game.
“I thought we got off to a really good start offensively (taking a 6-0 lead) and then from there we had a hard time,” Donovan said. “I thought we had some fairly decent looks. We didn’t shoot the ball particularly well. … I also thought that we had some shots that we are certainly more than capable of making and finishing and we didn’t.”
Thunder forward Paul George made 8 of 19 shots from the field and 3 of 9 from 3-point range. The former Indiana Pacers All-Star also had six turnovers.
“It was just missed shots,” George said of the reason for the loss to Utah. “I thought we got a lot of great looks. I thought we could have done a better job getting ourselves in a better rhythm, but I thought offensively we were fine.”
Carmelo Anthony scored 26 points but he took 26 shots, making 12. He was 2 of 8 from 3-point range. George, Anthony and Russell Westbrook were a combined 6 of 22 from beyond the arc.
“We’re great,” George said afterward. “This (loss) is good for us. This will build a lot within this locker room. Good thing about it is we got another game tomorrow. We’ll go out and we’ll execute. We will pick up the pieces and clean some things up and we’ll be ready for tomorrow.”
Another concern is rebounding. Westbrook had a big first half on the backboards with 10 rebounds. No other Oklahoma City player had more than three. Westbrook finished with 11 rebounds and George was next with five.
Minnesota beat Utah 100-97 on Friday in Minneapolis behind the solid frontcourt play of center Karl-Anthony Towns and forward Taj Gibson, who combined for 18 rebounds. Towns had 10 of them and shot 7 of 12 from the field, finishing with 20 points.
Gibson and fellow Chicago Bulls import Jimmy Butler are making their mark early. Butler had 13 points, seven rebounds and five steals against the Jazz.
When the Timberwolves overhauled their roster in the offseason, the spotlight was on the acquisition of Butler, Gibson and Jeff Teague. Backup guard Jamal Crawford will also be an important contributor.
Crawford scored all 17 of his points in the fourth quarter in the narrow victory Friday. He made a 3-pointer to take sole possession of sixth in NBA history with 2,051. He is sixth among all active players in games played (1,183).
When asked of Crawford’s potential impact this season, Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau said: “I think you saw. It’s amazing. It doesn’t take him much to get going.”
When he was a rookie, Teague played with Crawford in Atlanta. According to Teague, eight years later, the only thing that has changed is Crawford’s age. He is now 37.
“I’m not amazed by him anymore,” Teague said. “I expect that from him.”
Andrew Wiggins, the third-year holdover, has led the team in scoring in both games. He scored 21 in Friday’s game.