1. The Wolves got Josh Okogie back on Thursday. There was nothing physically wrong with Okogie, but he wasn’t playing like himself over the past few weeks before Thursday’s victory over Portland. In his 12 games before Thursday, Okogie was shooting a miserable 26% from the field and 10% from three-point range (3-for-31). He wasn’t himself at either end of the floor. But Okogie had an impact Thursday. He had two blocks, two steals and hit the only two shots he took, both three-pointers. He looked like his old self again. “Man, I’m glad I started playing like this,” Okogie said. “Just let my defense kind of take over and then let everything else follow suit. I did a good job being active.”
2. One of the biggest questions for the Wolves will be: Can their defense maintain its current levels of production when center Karl-Anthony Towns returns to the lineup? Towns’ defensive rating this season is 114.5 points per 100 possessions, the worst on the team. It was the absence of Towns and Andrew Wiggins that caused some soul-searching for the Wolves on that end of the floor, and they hope they can maintain their improvement. “We can’t outscore everyone,” forward Robert Covington said. “We’ve got tremendous talent, but you have to be able to get down and get stops. … We’ve got the talent. We’ve got the athleticism to where can do a lot of things. How committed are we?”
3. Another story line to monitor when Towns returns will be the role of Gorgui Dieng. Dieng has filled in capably with Towns out. Over the past 12 games, Dieng had averaged 13.3 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. But more important, Dieng has been a big reason the defense has played as well as it has. He has been an effective communicator on the back line, helping to direct the defense. “I learned that early in my career,” Dieng said. “[Kevin Garnett] was doing it, and I think he taught us how to communicate better. That helped us.” Perhaps coach Ryan Saunders will consider a lineup that includes both Towns and Dieng, instead of just slotting Dieng back into bench minutes again.
AROUND THE NBA: Rolling, not rebuilding
After trading Paul George and Russell Westbrook over the summer, many pegged the Thunder to be in rebuilding mode, with a treasure trove of draft picks they acquired in those deals. But nearly halfway through the season, Oklahoma City is in line to make the playoffs at 22-16 entering Friday. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the best current player Oklahoma City got back in the George trade, is averaging 19.8 points in his second season, while guard Chris Paul has improved his shooting from 42% to 47% after arriving from Houston in the Westbrook trade.