NBA: High-profile Timberwolves open season with rebuilding Thunder

 Karl-Anthony Towns #32 of the Minnesota Timberwolves drives to the basket against Aaron Wiggins #21 of the Oklahoma City Thunder in the third quarter at Target Center on January 5, 2022 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

FILE–Karl-Anthony Towns #32 of the Minnesota Timberwolves drives to the basket against Aaron Wiggins #21 of the Oklahoma City Thunder  on January 5, 2022. Harrison Barden/Getty Images/AFP 

The Minnesota Timberwolves are creating a buzz outside of the Twin Cities, something that has not happened in quite awhile.

After making the playoffs last season for the first time since 2018, the Wolves pushed the Memphis Grizzlies to six games in the first round. In order to keep the momentum rolling, Minnesota added defensive stopper Rudy Gobert in the offseason.

The first chance to show if they are ready for the next step comes Wednesday when the Wolves play host to the Oklahoma City Thunder in Minneapolis in the season opener for both teams.

“He’s a generational talent on defense, and I think I’m a generational talent on offense,” fellow Minnesota big man Karl-Anthony Towns said of Gobert. “The way that we can complement each other on both sides of the court is going to be amazing.

“I think it’s really exciting for fans. I think it’s very exciting for the league. People talk about a two big-man tandem hasn’t been able to work, especially in today’s NBA. We intend to change that mindset for people.”

The Timberwolves’ early schedule figures to give them a chance to work through the transition period of melding Gobert into a lineup that includes not only Towns but D’Angelo Russell and Anthony Edwards.

The 7-foot-1 Gobert and the 6-11 Towns played just one preseason game together.

Minnesota, which led the NBA with 115.9 points per game last season, is at home for five of its first six games, with its lone road game in that span coming at still-rebuilding Oklahoma City.

While the Timberwolves’ early schedule is favorable, the Thunder’s is far from it, with Oklahoma City’s first six games coming against teams that at least appeared in the play-in games last season.

OKC’s offseason began on a high note when it drafted 7-footer Chet Holmgren with the No. 2 overall pick, a player the Thunder hoped would improve its combined .299 winning percentage over the last two seasons.

Holmgren impressed in summer-league action initially, then went down with a Lisfranc injury to his right foot that required season-ending surgery. With Holmgren sidelined, OKC could be in for another season of struggles.

OKC does hope to have guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander back after he missed the preseason due to a left MCL sprain.

“He looks really good physically,” Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said of Gilgeous-Alexander. “We’re always very careful when we’re bringing guys back because we don’t want to create a situation where we’re rushing them back only to have to deal with it in a recurring manner, and we’re confident that’s not the case.”

Gilgeous-Alexander missed the final 10 games of last season and has missed 63 games combined over the last two campaigns. In his fourth season in 2021-22, he averaged a career-high 24.5 points per game.

Luguentz Dort (quad contusion) and Kenrich Williams (groin) are also expected to play for Oklahoma City on Wednesday, while Mike Muscala (sprained ankle) is questionable.

Minnesota swept all four meetings with the Thunder last season, winning by an average of 26.3 points per game.

The Timberwolves won each of the last three meetings by at least 30 points.

Field Level Media

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