The Minnesota Timberwolves’ Andrew Wiggins has been a pest for the Oklahoma City Thunder this season.
The first two times the teams have met this season, Wiggins has taken control and helped the Timberwolves to close wins late.
Tuesday, Minnesota hosts the Thunder with both teams needing a win.
The Timberwolves have lost three consecutive games — all on the road.
Minnesota entered the road trip with a chance to make the playoffs after winning four of five, but the three-game slide, which put the Timberwolves 9-24 on the road this season, have turned those hopes into a longshot.
“It’s hard to win in the NBA,” Minnesota interim coach Ryan Saunders said. “It’s even harder to win on the road. It’s even harder to win on the road in the NBA when your defensive intensity is not there. It hasn’t been there in these three games here.”
Minnesota is hoping its defensive intensity returns now that it is back at home after the Timberwolves gave up an average of 129 points per game during the road swing.
“They weigh on you,” Minnesota’s Anthony Tolliver told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “Just like winning can have a huge effect on you positively, then you start racking up losses, it can weigh on you as well.”
Minnesota might catch a break defensively if the Thunder are without Paul George once again.
Oklahoma City’s All-Star forward has missed the last three games with shoulder soreness.
During George’s absence, the Thunder have averaged 101 points per game after averaging 124 in the 21 previous games.
Without George, Thunder coach Billy Donovan has tinkered with his lineup, most recently starting Dennis Schroder — his backup point guard — in George’s spot to try to spark some offense.
Schroder had 17 points and a career-high 12 rebounds in Sunday’s 99-95 win over Memphis.
Russell Westbrook has been the Thunder player most affected by George’s absence, though.
Before George’s injury, Westbrook was making strides from behind the 3-point line, shooting better than 48 percent from behind the arc over three games while making an average of more than six per game. But without George, Westbrook is shooting less than 23 percent from behind the 3-point line.
Sunday’s win broke the Thunder’s four-game losing streak, and it came thanks to two big Westbrook shots in the last two minutes, including a 3-pointer to tie it.
“That’s what makes him the player he is,” Donovan said of Westbrook’s confidence. “The guys that have high-level talent, what separates them to me is how they handle adversity, both personally and collectively as a team.”
George also leads the Thunder’s defense as well, and figures to be missed on that end in this game. Even with George, Wiggins has averaged 35 points in two games against Oklahoma City this season.
Tuesday’s game starts a critical four-game road trip for Oklahoma City. Included is a Thursday game at Portland, which enters the night tied with the Thunder for third in the Western Conference.
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