A pair of stars are expected to be missing when the Minnesota Timberwolves play host to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday at Minneapolis.
The Timberwolves are working to adjust their game plan for extended life without Karl-Anthony Towns, who came away with a right calf strain in Monday’s loss to the Washington Wizards that will keep him out four-to-six weeks.
Oklahoma City doesn’t figure to be without Shai Gilgeous-Alexander for that long, but their leading scorer missed Wednesday’s victory over the San Antonio Spurs after he came away with a left hip contusion in Monday’s road loss to the New Orleans Pelicans.
Without Towns, Minnesota figures to lean heavily on third-year shooting guard Anthony Edwards, who had 29 points, five assists, five steals, three blocks and just one turnover in Wednesday’s 109-101 home win over the Memphis Grizzlies.
“It’s energy. When he plays with great energy, it pulsates through our guys,” Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said of Edwards. “He makes big plays. He makes plays that can swing a game. He’s always had a great sense of timing.”
Finch said Edwards’ leadership role had been expanding even before Towns’ injury.
“His voice in the locker room is growing and growing, and it’s great to see and much needed for this team. He’s got it in him,” Finch said. “He’s an extremely likable teammate, everything believes that when you have him on the floor, he’s going to do great things, and now he’s learning how to back it up with some words to help his teammates as well.”
While Minnesota has players like Edwards and Rudy Gobert to fill the void with Towns out, the Thunder are not quite as equipped to succeed without Gilgeous-Alexander. The guard is averaging 31.1 points and 6.1 assists per game, while reaching the free-throw line 9.3 times per game – all career highs.
Before missing Wednesday’s game, Gilgeous-Alexander had only missed one game this season – the Thunder’s 116-106 home loss to Minnesota on Oct. 23.
Oklahoma City coach Mark Daigneault said the Thunder are doing the same things structurally with or without Gilgeous-Alexander.
“Systematically it doesn’t change anything,” Daigneault said. “Certainly personnel wise it does, but systematically it doesn’t.”
If Gilgeous-Alexander can’t play, more of the weight for Oklahoma City’s offense falls on the shoulders of Josh Giddey, who moves into the role as the Thunder’s primary ball-handler.
Without Gilgeous-Alexander against the Timberwolves early in the season, Giddey had 10 points, two rebounds, five assists and four turnovers in 22 minutes.
In Wednesday’s win over the Spurs, Giddey was much better. He had 14 points, 13 rebounds, five assists and no turnovers.
Saturday’s game is the third of four between the teams this season. The first two, both wins by the Timberwolves, came in the season’s first week. Minnesota beat the Thunder at Minneapolis 115-108 in the season opener for both teams.
The Timberwolves are likely to be without Taurean Prince, who has missed the last four games with a shoulder injury. Jaden McDaniels, who has missed the last three games with an illness, and Jordan McLaughlin, who has missed five with a calf injury, both practiced Friday.