Practice Report | Jan. 2, 2014

Practice Report | Jan. 2, 2014

Kevin Martin has high praise for Thunder point guard Reggie Jackson. As his teammate last year in Oklahoma City, Martin got a chance to get to know Jackson and saw from the inside the type of work ethic he showcased on a daily basis.

It’s a big reason why Martin calls Jackson one of his favorite young players in the league. And it’s a reason why the Wolves, who will play a Russell Westbrook-less Thunder squad on Saturday, will still have their hands full at the point guard position.

“Reggie is a starter in this league,” Martin said. “He’s a guy who can come in and play Russell’s position until he gets back and be effective.”

Tipoff at Target Center is set for 7 p.m. on Fox Sports North and 830 WCCO-AM.

Westbrook tore the lateral meniscus in his right knee during the Thunder’s second playoff game last season, underwent surgery and missed the preseason and OKC’s first two games of the regular season. He played 25 games and even had a triple-double on Christmas Day, but underwent arthroscopic surgery on that same right knee two days later.

He’s expected to be out until after the All-Star Break.

Westbrook is a major part of the Thunder’s play, but the Wolves understand OKC has a bevy of talent that can step up and carry part of the load. Kevin Durant, for one, can take over a game at any time and is arguably the best shooters in the league. Their remaining starters are no slouch either—Serge Ibaka’s game continues to evolve on both ends of the floor, Thabo Sefolosha is a nice defensive perimeter piece and Kendrick Perkins is a load inside. As Rick Adelman said, the Thunder are probably a top-2 team in the league with Westbrook and a top-4 team without him.

But Jackson, now in his third season, has more than doubled his points per game (12.5) and is shooting a career-best 31.8 percent from 3. He’s a 90.0 percent free-throw shooter this year, is averaging career highs in assists (3.6 apg) and rebounds (3.9 rpg) while shooting 45.3 percent from the field.

Thunder coach Scott Brooks said Jackson made big strides throughout last season and was prepared to jump in when Westbrook went down in the playoffs. This year, he continued his development whether he was in the starting lineup or off the bench.

“He could have probably been Sixth Man of the Year,” Adelman said. “He’s a really good player. But they’re totally different. Westbrook is one of the best players in the game. He can attack you in so many different ways. He’s so athletic. They really miss him, but I think they’ve played without him in the preseason, they played without him in the playoffs last year. It’s the second time they’ve had to do it, so they’re pretty familiar with what they’re going to do.”

The Thunder are 4-2 without Westbrook this year, including a 100-81 loss to the Wolves on Nov. 1. Jackson finished 3-of-9 with eight points and four assists in that contest.

The Wolves are hoping they can contain the Thunder enough, even with Durant’s likely increased role in the offense, to pull out a victory and climb a game above .500.

Part of that will be dealing with Jackson—a guy who continues to develop his game.

“They [Westbrook and Jackson] both want to attack and get to the rim,” Martin said. “I think Russell is a little bit more of a veteran player, so he’s seeing it all. But Reggie, he’s in that learning phase. He can do exactly what Russ can do, so we can’t take him lightly.”

Mbah a Moute Injury Update

Luc Richard Mbah a Moute tweaked his groin during Wednesday’s win over the Pelicans. He did not do much with the team practice-wise today, and Adelman said the team will continue to monitor him and see how he feels.

Mbah a Moute tried to re-enter and finish the game but it bothered him enough to the point where he could not really run. He sat the rest of the game out.

He said it’s the first time the groin bothered him.

“Anytime you have an injury, you want to make sure you take care of it,” Mbah a Moute said. “You don’t want to make it worse or anything like that. I’ll just be working with the trainers, doing treatment, watching it and seeing how it goes.”

Adelman said Mbah a Moute has done a great job joining the team and giving them a defensive effort that mirrors what the scouting report requests. He knows his opponents and forces them into situations that the coaches want him to.

That being said, he and Corey Brewer are both important pieces in this perimeter defensive scheme when preparing for Durant on Saturday.

“We’ve got to have everybody, not just me,” Mbah a Moute said. “He's such a good scorer, you can't just count on one person trying to help out with him. And then, he's not the only guy on that team; they've got really good players. I think it's going to take a team effort, especially him is a big part of it, but just us together as a group coming and playing good team basketball defensively and against those guys.”

We’ll monitor Mbah a Moute’s progress leading up to game time on Saturday.

Quick Hits

  • Both Chase Budinger and Ronny Turiaf played 4-on-4 ball today. They’ve been doing 3-on-3 and 4-on-4 recently, but today Adelman said the crew played full court. He said he didn’t expect Budinger to be ready for Saturday’s game against OKC, but he did say he thinks he’s getting close. “Chase hasn’t had a Training Camp, so this is kind of it,” Adelman said.

  • Adelman said the thing he was most happy about in Wednesday’s 124-112 win over the Pelicans was the consistent play from start to finish: “We played well from the very beginning. We moved the ball well, we took advantage and got to the free throw line in the first half. I think as the game went on we defended really good. They have some good perimeter people, and we were able to control them.”

  • Martin said every game from this point to the playoffs is a statement game for this team: “You know if we keep on talking about this .500 mark, we’re just selling our team short. We’ve got bigger goals than that. So we just have to play every game like we’re clawing into the playoffs, which we are. But we have to get over that.”

  • For more news and notes on the team follow the Minnesota Timberwolves and Mark Remme on Twitter.