Is Russell Westbrook the NBA’s MVP of the 2016-17 season? His chances are looking pretty good right now, but he still has two games left to prove that he deserves the award.
Westbrook and his 46-34 Oklahoma City Thunder visit the 31-49 Minnesota Timberwolves tonight (8pm ET Tuesday on NBATV). Minnesota has been out of the playoff hunt for a week or two, and the Thunder are locked into the No. 6 seed. While there isn’t anything to play for standings-wise, people should be tuning into see the Timberwolves’ young talent and, of course, Westbrook’s MVP-caliber exploits.
OKC is going into the postseason playing pretty good basketball. The team has won 11 of its last 16 games, mostly on the strength of Westbrook (33.5 points, 11.1 rebounds and 11.6 assists per game in that strength).
Minnesota has faded down the stretch (3-11 in its last 14 games) despite elevated play from the young duo of Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. As long as those two keep improving and the team secures enough shooters and defenders to play around them, the Wolves are in great position moving forward.
So which team will finish on top in today’s contest? We’ll dive into some important questions that will be significant factors as to the the result, then make some picks and predictions on the spread and total points scored in the game.
Will Alex Abrines Play?
This seems like a pretty immaterial question. Abrines is a rookie who averages 5.9 points per game off the bench, and he isn’t a standout on defense.
However, he’s a sharpshooter who has averaged 3.4 three-pointers made per 36 minutes since the All-Star break. Doug McDermott (Oklahoma City’s best three-point shooter) is already out with a knee injury, and Abrines being questionable is something to worry about.
Abrines and McDermott are both bench wings, which means OKC’s depth at the 2 and 3 positions is greatly compromised when they sit. Also, the team’s spacing on offense gets worse for the team’s slashers when key shooters don’t see the floor.
Can a Timberwolves Reserve Match Enes Kanter’s Production?
No McDermott and potentially no Abrines means the Thunder will rely on Kanter for big production off the bench, probably even more than he already provides (14.4 points and 6.7 rebounds and 21.4 minutes per game). The Turkish center is a master in the low post.
Tom Thibodeau famously plays his best players a lot of minutes. Recently, his rotation has actually included no true post player off the bench, and he’s just staggered the minutes of starting big men Karl-Anthony Towns and Gorgui Dieng so one of them is on the floor at all times.
That means Kanter will face a more exhausted big man most of the time he comes in. Minnesota will need one of its own reserves (Shabazz Muhammad seems like a logical candidate) to match the inevitably impressive numbers Kanter will rack up.
Can Ricky Rubio Keep Russell Westbrook Out of the Paint?
“Keep Westbrook out of the paint” is one of those classic “easier said than done” strategies. The MVP frontrunner is probably the most explosive point guard in NBA history.
However, Rubio is one of the strongest defenders at his position in the league. The good angles he takes makes up for his average quickness, and he has excellent hands.
The key for the Timberwolves has to be to get back on defense, specifically Rubio, since Westbrook can drive right by bigger players if they try to check him in space. In a half-court setting, Rubio will have to play a little bit off Westbrook and force him to take more jump shots than he would like.
Sure, Westbrook has gotten rather proficient as a jump shooter, but when you let him get in the paint, he either scores, draws fouls on a thin rotation of Timberwolves big men or dumps passes down to his own posts for easy layups. Rubio must make a point of turning Westbrook into purely a perimeter scorer tonight.
Our Preview’s Oklahoma City Thunder vs Minnesota Timberwolves Picks & Predictions
The Thunder are the better team, but there’s a big difference in both of these squads’ performances depending on location. OKC is just 18-22 on the road, and the Wolves are 20-20 at home.
However, I see an extremely motivated Westbrook as a trump card in this game. I believe some defensive-minded Thunder starters (Steven Adams and Andre Roberson, specifically) can at least contain Towns and Wiggins, though Kanter may have a nice game. Minnesota is well-known for struggling in the clutch. Westbrook has the opposite reputation.
So here are this preview’s betting predictions and picks if you want a wager on this NBA matchup:
- A lot of the U.S facing sports betting sites are delaying producing their betting lines until nearer the start time. However those bookies with odds favor the Timberwolves by around 3.5 to 4.5 points, which seems weird given their recent struggles and the Thunder’s solid play of late. Minnesota isn’t necessarily looking to win games right now, but Westbrook and the Thunder definitely are. This preview picks OKC +4.5pts @ -110 betting odds with Bookmaker Sportsbook (and probably to win straight up on the moneyline @ +163 with the same firm).
- The over-under for this game is 213.5. Go with the over @ -110, again with Bookmaker.eu, one of the only firms not running scared of taking bets on this game right now. Westbrook’s hyperactive mentality with the MVP on the line will push the pace in this contest.