OKC vs. MIN Preview – Thunder Must Be Physical from the Start

In the NBA, usually it’s the team that hits first that has the most success. Tonight when the Thunder takes on the Minnesota Timberwolves in the last of four regular season matchups, it will be imperative that Head Coach Scott Brooks’ team is the aggressor.

Against the Timberwolves, a team led by Kevin Love and Kevin Martin, the Thunder knows it will have to contend with a team that operates with precision and timing on the offensive end. With big men like Kendrick Perkins down low, the Thunder has players who can help deter the routes of Minnesota’s cutters by bumping and fighting through screens. In an essence, the Thunder wants to put a body on every Timberwolves player for the entirety of the possession.

“They run their sets all the way through,” Perkins explained. “They’re a cutting team and a passing team. We have to make sure we’re communicating well all through the course of the game.”

“You have to be the instigator and not the retaliator,” Perkins said. “If we come out and we hit first on the defensive end, we’ll be in pretty good shape.”

On the other end of the floor, the Thunder knows that its own execution on the offensive end will be paramount to creating high-percentage looks and preventing Minnesota from getting out into transition. If the Thunder can avoid turnovers, particularly the deadly live-ball ones that allow for easy run-outs, it can get a good look at the basket each trip down floor and ensure that the Timberwolves have to play against a set five-man defense in the halfcourt.

“Taking care of the ball, getting good shots and making sure we’re getting good positioning to get back on defense,” guard Thabo Sefolosha said.

A focal point of the Thunder’s offense of late has been Serge Ibaka, who has eight 20-point games in the last four weeks alone thanks to his timing with Kevin Durant in the two-man game. Opponents have been trapping Durant out at the top of the key when Ibaka sets a screen, trying to prevent the Thunder’s all-around weapon from attacking. By taking what the defense gives him, Durant simply has been hitting Ibaka with bounce passes or lobs over the top, freeing him up for his patented mid-range jumper.

“(Ibaka) is just playing his game,” Sefolosha explained. “That pick-and-pop and pick-and-roll, it puts a lot of stress on the defense to rotate or leave somebody else open.”

In the Notes:

- The Thunder is 2-1 against the Timberwolves this season, and overall is 17-5 against Minnesota in the regular season.

- Serge Ibaka has scored 82 points over his past four games, the most in a four-game stretch in his career.

- The Thunder is 13-2 when creating ten-or-more steals and 3-1 when blocking ten-or-more shots.

Broadcast Info:

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