Ball Pressure Crucial Tonight against Timberwolves

MINNEAPOLIS – Over the past five years the Thunder and Minnesota Timberwolves have engaged in their fair share of tightly contested contests in addition to blowouts, but each time these teams step on the floor, the intensity of the division rivalry is palpable.

Thanks to the NBA schedule, which pits the Thunder and Timberwolves against one another four times a year, Head Coach Scott Brooks’ club has an intimate knowledge of what Minnesota wants to do on the offensive end. With burly center Nikola Pekovic rolling hard to the rim and Kevin Love popping out to the perimeter, the Timberwolves have one of the most dynamic frontcourt tandems in the league, something the Thunder must contend with, using all five players.

“We’ll just be up physical on the ball and do our work early,” forward Kevin Durant said. “Those guys are so good with Pekovic rolling and Kevin love popping for threes. We just have to control the ball and help out the bigs as much as we can. We know how good this team is in pick-and-roll. We just have to make sure our coverages are straight and make second and third efforts.”

Perhaps the biggest key to preventing Pekovic easy looks at the rim and Love wide open shots from outside will be the ball pressure that guards like Reggie Jackson and Derek Fisher can put on Minnesota’s ball-handlers, namely Ricky Rubio and JJ Barea. If the Thunder’s perimeter players can harass their men and mask both passing lanes and line of sight, the Timberwolves won’t be able to create the types of shots they want.

“There are a few critical components of it and pressuring the ball is definitely one of them,” Brooks said.

“We have to make sure we have good ball pressure. The ball can’t have freedom. When we’re into the ball, it gives our defense a better chance of getting a stop. Like any part of any defense, you need all five guys to be active members in the defensive game plan.”

Strong defensive possessions that prevent clean looks and sharp passes can often lead to easy offense for the Thunder. Getting out into transition is the Thunder’s main goal, but if it has to play halfcourt offense, the team wants to keep working to find the best possible shot through the flow of the offense. Instead of playing isolation, one-on-one basketball, getting looks at the rim through cutting, screening and ball movement will be the recipe for success for the Thunder.

“One of the things we have to continue to do is keep believing in the pass,” Brooks explained. "Our guys have done that the last few years, but we want to get better at it.”

“We just have to trust in (our system) and move the ball a little more,” Durant echoed.

In the Notes:

- The Thunder went 2-2 against the Timberwolves in 2012-13, and overall is 15-4 against Minnesota.

- During the 2012-13 season, the Thunder went 43-17 in games after a win.

- The Thunder went 39-13 (0.750) against Western Conference teams in 2012-13, including 15-11 (0.576) on the road.

Broadcast Info:

7:00 p.m. CT. TV - Fox Sports Oklahoma. Radio – 98.1 FM The Sports Animal, Thunder Radio Network