Scouting Report: Wolves vs. Thunder
Wolves Editorial Associate
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Wolves (12-11) vs Thunder (21-4) — 6:00 PM Target Center
Where to Watch: TNT
Where to Listen: 830 WCCO-AM
View Timberwolves Game Notes
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The Wolves will look to rebound today after a winless road trip, although it will be a tough task against Oklahoma City—the team with the best record in the NBA. They’ll get their shot tonight at Target Center. Tipoff is set for 6 p.m. on TNT and 830 WCCO-AM.
Despite finishing with a 53-24 rebounding advantage, Minnesota’s turnovers and weak perimeter defense was its demise in a 103-92 loss to the Miami Heat Tuesday night. LeBron James pitched in 22 points and 11 rebounds, and he had a huge part in a 24-9 run in the second half that put the Heat back on top for good. Miami hit 12 of its 25 three-pointers—four from Mario Chalmers—and only turned the ball over 8 times compared to Minnesota’s 18. Andrei Kirilenko shot 63 percent from the field and had 22 points to lead the Wolves; Kevin Love (11 points, 18 boards) and Nikola Pekovic (18 and 12) also each had double-doubles. Ricky Rubio did not play, adhering to the rehabilitation requirements of his injury.
Oklahoma City Breakdown
Tuesday’s scouting report against Miami showcased a team that was very successful last season and is carrying its momentum well into the new year; the same should be said of Oklahoma City. The defending Western Conference champions own the league’s best record (20-4), the highest scoring average per game (104.7 points per game) and a sizzling 12-game win streak. Their latest victory was a 100-92 win over the Atlanta Hawks where Kevin Durant exploded for 41 points, and Russell Westbrook helped out with 27 of his own.
Although some things have changed in Oklahoma City, Durant and Westbrook’s habits of marking up score sheets have not. Durant is third in the league with 27.1 points per game, and Westbrook is only a few slots behind him at seventh (20.8 PPG). The Thunder looks structurally the same without stud sixth-man James Harden, who has since moved on to a starting role in Houston. He has been replaced by Kevin Martin, a 29-year-old guard who is enjoying his most efficient year shooting the ball since 2006; this includes an absolutely dangerous 47 percent rate from the 3-point line. Much like how Harden used to be, Martin is third on the team in scoring despite not starting a single game this year.
Last Time Out: April 14, 2012
Kevin Durant put on a shooting clinic the last time he came to Minneapolis, as he netted 43 points on 15-of-23 to lead Oklahoma City to a 115-110 conference win on April 14.
With leading scorer Kevin Love sidelined from a concussion, the Wolves instead leaned on 26 points from Michael Beasley and 24 from JJ Barea. Anthony Randolph had 22. The loss was the ninth in a row for the Wolves.
"We're just out there trying to be scrappy," Beasley said. "Kevin might not be here for the rest of the season. Everybody has to step up, and we're trying to finish this season with a bang."
Along with Durant, Westbrook coasted to 35 points, looking effortless at times. Nick Collison pitched in 10.
Key Matchup: Kevin Durant and Kevin Love
Although Durant can essentially score from anywhere, Love and Nikola Pekovic are going to have to hold down the paint against the Thunder. The best way to handle Durant defensively might be to push him outside and hope Alexey Shved and Andrei Kirilenko disrupt his shots with their long reaches; this can’t be done if Durant is allowed to sneak into the paint. It’s a tough defensive assignment for Love; he will have to keep his eye on Kendrick Perkins while also trying to defend the rim against Durant or the explosive Westbrook.
Durant, possibly the most talented scorer in the NBA, is coming off a 41-point victory where he made four threes, shot 9-of-10 from the charity stripe and—by the way—added 13 rebounds. Love must improve on his shooting, as he hit only 2-of-10 attempts in Tuesday’s loss; he also didn’t shoot any 3-pointers, a range that was developing as one of his strong points as recently as last season. His hand still seems to be a nuisance—he has been seen shaking it during games—and the Wolves are hoping to see him enjoy a pain-free, effective shooting game very soon.
No word yet on Josh Howard’s timeline after suffering a hyper-extended right knee Dec. 14 at New Orleans. He’s listed as doubtful for tonight’s game, which really limits how the Wolves get rest for small forward Andrei Kirilenko. It also affects the guard rotation, as Minnesota will likely have four healthy guards available tonight in Luke Ridnour, Alexey Shved, JJ Barea and Ricky Rubio. The Oklahoma City Thunder enter tonight’s game injury-free.
|Tonight's Probable Starters|
|PG||Luke Ridnour||Russell Westbrook|
|SG||Alexey Shved||Thabo Sefolosha|
|SF||Andrei Kirilenko||Kevin Durant|
|PF||Kevin Love||Serge Ibaka|
|C||Nikola Pekovic||Kendrick Perkins|