PREVIEW: Personnel issues central to Minnesota Timberwolves, Oklahoma City Thunder game

By Field Level Media
Jan 25, 2021; Portland, Oregon, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Kenrich Williams (34) derives to the basket on Portland Trail Blazers forward Harry Giles III (4) and forward Nassir Little (9) during the first half at Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

Kenrich Williams was far from the centerpiece of the Oklahoma City Thunder’s offseason trade that sent Steven Adams to New Orleans.

But Williams has proved to be invaluable off the bench. And going into Friday’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves in Oklahoma City, with the Thunder short-handed once again, Williams figures to continue to be a priceless commodity.

He’s coming off a season-high 19 points on 7-of-8 shooting in Wednesday’s win over the Houston Rockets.

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“He was really good obviously, but no different effort and energy … that’s just something he brings to the team every single day,” Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said.

Daigneault said Williams exhibits the same fire in a three-on-three workout in practice as he does in games.

“He’s got 19 and we’re up big and he’s still getting on guys,” Thunder forward Isaiah Roby said. “That’s not something that he’s just going because he’s having a good game. That’s him every day. That’s something that every team needs.

“It’s invaluable to our team. We love having K-Rich around every day.”

The Thunder were without three starters — George Hill, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Luguentz Dort — for much of Wednesday’s game.

Hill remains out after recently undergoing surgery on his right thumb. Gilgeous-Alexander missed the game with a left knee sprain and Dort was knocked out of the game early with left knee soreness.

The statuses of Gilgeous-Alexander and Dort for Friday’s game are unclear.

The Timberwolves have lost two consecutive games and 16 of their last 19.

Minnesota has also lost nine straight on the road.

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The Timberwolves are coming off a 111-108 loss in San Antonio where they led by 16 points in the fourth quarter.

“We stopped doing the things that got us the lead,” Minnesota coach Ryan Saunders said. “That’s been a theme in some of these losses.”

The Timberwolves scored only two points over a stretch of more than six minutes, allowing the Spurs back into the game with a 20-2 run.

“We’ve just got to get all together and on the same page,” Wolves guard Ricky Rubio said. “And when things are going wrong, it just shows the true colors of everybody, and we don’t know exactly how to play down the stretch.”

The Wolves figure to get some help soon, with both Karl-Anthony Towns and Juan Hernangomez expected to return shortly.

Neither has played since Jan. 13 due to COVID-19 protocols.

Hernangomez has suited up recently but has yet to make his return while Towns joined the Timberwolves for their current five-game road trip.

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“As guys come back, you want to be safe, as they’ve been out for a significant period of time, have had to battle a number of things,” Saunders said. “You want to make sure they’re conditioned. So it will be an ongoing process.”

The meeting is the first of the season between the teams. Oklahoma City has won four consecutive games over the Timberwolves.

–Field Level Media