Nuggets coach Michael Malone lamented the only downside of the No. 1 seed was that Denver wouldn’t know who it’d meet in the first round until late Friday night.
With only one day to prepare before Sunday’s Game 1 at 8:30 p.m. in Denver, familiarity shouldn’t be an issue.
The Minnesota Timberwolves knocked off the visiting Oklahoma City Thunder, 120-95, on Friday night to claim the No. 8 seed and secure a date against the top-seeded Nuggets.
A Northwest Division rival, that’s only the start of the shared history between the two franchises. Most notably, former Nuggets president Tim Connelly left Denver last offseason to run the Timberwolves’ franchise. Connelly was instrumental in turning the Nuggets around and never could’ve guessed that he’d see his former team in his very first playoff series running his new franchise.
Ironically, Denver’s current GM, Calvin Booth, spent four years in Minnesota’s front office prior to joining the Nuggets’ franchise.
On the court, the Nuggets went 2-2 against the Timberwolves this season, though Wolves center Karl-Anthony Towns didn’t play in any of the four matchups due to injury. Two-time reigning MVP Nikola Jokic averaged 25 points on 60% shooting, 12.7 assists and 10 rebounds in three games against Minnesota this season.
Grabbing his offensive rebound, Rudy Gobert’s elbow inadvertently hit his right in the face, and Gilgeious-Alexander lay on the floor for several minutes. He walked into the locker room with a trainer while icing his face and returned a few minutes later, but with a shiner on his right eye.
Tipoff from the Target Center is set for 9:30 p.m. ET. Caesars Sportsbook lists Minnesota as the 5.5-point favorite in the Timberwolves vs. Thunder odds, while the over/under for total points is 228.5. Before making any Thunder vs. Timberwolves picks, you’ll want to see the NBA predictions and betting advice from the proven computer simulation model at SportsLine.
The SportsLine Projection Model simulates every NBA game 10,000 times and has returned well over $10,000 in profit for $100 players on its top-rated NBA picks over the past four-plus seasons. The model enters the 2023 NBA Play-in Tournament a stunning 71-36 on all top-rated NBA picks this season, returning more than $3,000. Anyone following it has seen huge returns.
Now, the model has set its sights on Thunder vs. Timberwolves and just locked in its picks and NBA playoff predictions. You can head to SportsLine now to see the model’s picks. Here are several NBA odds and betting lines for T’Wolves vs. Thunder:
The cousins, both 24 years old, were born just 52 days apart Gilgeous-Alexander is older — but had not squared off much on the NBA level. In fact, entering Friday night, Alexander-Walker had guarded his cousin in only 27 half-court matchups during his four NBA seasons and held him to 3-of-11 shooting.
On Friday night, Alexander-Walker matched up against him 41 times. The results? Gilgeous-Alexander scored just eight points, went 3-of-12 from the floor and drew just two free throws against Alexander-Walker. Against all other Timberwolves, he was 2-of-7 but drew 10 free throw attempts, making all 10.
They had played against each other all their lives, but this was on a win-or-go-home stage. The two spoke before the game and embraced each other once the final buzzer sounded.
Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said the idea to start Alexander-Walker on Gilgeous-Alexander actually came from the front office.
“Quite honestly, it was something that Timberwolves president of basketball operations Tim Connelly said, ‘Hey, here’s a wild one, what do you think?’ and I was like, ‘It makes a lot of sense,'” Finch said.
The Timberwolves entered the matchup without defensive stalwart Jaden McDaniels who broke his right hand Sunday after punching a wall in the tunnel. Without McDaniels, turning to the 6-foot-6 Alexander-Walker was the move.
When Alexander-Walker was drafted to the New Orleans Pelicans in 2019, Finch was an assistant coach on the team, so he has had a chance to watch Alexander-Walker grow throughout the years.
“I mean, I thought like most young players when we had him as a rookie he was a defensive liability,” Finch said. “The game was moving fast. He was trying to catch up. But he’s really added defensive intelligence and competitiveness to his game. And that’s really gonna carry him a long way because he’s a smart player.”
While Alexander-Walker led things at the point of attack, the rest of the Timberwolves’ defense thrived as well, holding the Thunder to 36.0% shooting overall and just 95 points.
Williamson only played in 29 games this season and missed the final 46 games including the play-in game because of the hamstring injury. Williamson played in 24 games his rookie season and 61 of 72 during his second year before missing all of his third year because of a broken bone in his right foot.
When asked what needed to change to make Williamson more available, Griffin pointed to a number of factors.
“I wish I could immediately pinpoint the answer. I think a big part is on him,” Griffin said. “I think there is a lot he can do better. And he would, I think, tell you that. I think we need to do a better job examining the whole situation top to bottom a little bit better.
“I think putting him in the best position to succeed is important. And I think his participation is a big part of that.”
Injuries were a big part of the Pelicans’ season even without factoring Williamson into the equation. While the Pelicans were 23-14 when Williamson was injured and third in the West, there were more things to deal with besides that.
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