Scouting Report: Wolves vs. Thunder
Wolves (25-35) vs. Thunder (43-16) - 7 PM Target Center
Where to Watch: Fox Sports North
Where to Listen: 830 AM WCCO
*Get your questions on the radio airwaves during halftime! Just tweet questions to @WolvesRadio and listen to the halftime show hosted by John Focke on WCCO 830 AM.
The Minnesota Timberwolves have pushed Western Conference leading Oklahoma City to its limits twice in 2011-12 and have come up short both times. Tonight the Wolves get their final shot at toppling the Thunder this season.
Minnesota and Oklahoma City square off tonight at Target Center for the third and final time this season. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.
The Thunder narrowly escaped Target Center on opening night on Dec. 26, winning 104-100 despite a second half comeback by the Wolves. On March 23, the two teams joined together to produce one of this season’s more memorable games, with the Thunder pulling out a 149-140 double overtime victory in Oklahoma City.
Tonight, OKC heads to town sporting a Western Conference best 18-10 road record, but if there is a good time to face the Thunder perhaps this is it. Oklahoma City is 3-4 in its last seven games overall, including a season-high three game losing streak from April 2-6. The Thunder are coming off a 115-89 victory over Sacramento on Friday.
Minnesota has lost eight straight games and looks to rebound tonight against OKC. The Wolves are coming off a 95-82 loss at home against the Clippers on Thursday, and their last win was on March 28 against the Charlotte Bobcats on the road. The Timberwolves are looking to win their first game at home since beating Denver 117-100 on March 25.
Last time out
In their second meeting of the season on March 23, the Wolves and Thunder put together an epic double overtime performance that OKC won, 149-140. Wolves forward Kevin Love set a franchise record in the game with 51 points—one of three games in March in which he scored 40-plus points. After Thunder forward Kevin Durant sank a 3-pointer to give OKC the lead with 3 seconds to play in regulation, Love answered back with a 3-pointer of his own to send the game into overtime. In OT, Durant again made a 3-pointer with 10 seconds left to force the game into double overtime, in which OKC pulled away by outscoring Minnesota 20-11.
Durant finished the game with 40 points and 17 boards, while point guard Russell Westbrook finished with 45 points. Guard James Harden added 25 points off the bench. The Wolves and Thunder combined for 24 3-pointers in the game, while Oklahoma City held a 74-56 points in the paint advantage.
The Wolves continue to battle injuries as they close out the final six games of the regular season. On Thursday, Minnesota was without Love after he suffered a mild concussion and neck strain against Denver on Wednesday. He will not play tonight against OKC. Guard Luke Ridnour has missed the past five games with a sprained right ankle, and guard Wayne Ellington has missed the past two games with back spasms. Center Darko Milicic has missed the past seven games with a strained right hamstring.
The Thunder played Sacramento on Friday without Harden, who sat with a sore right knee. Guard Eric Maynor is out with a torn right ACL.
Key matchup: Barea vs. Westbrook
Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook has become one of the more dynamic players at his position in the league this season. He’s averaging 24.1 points and 5.4 assists per game this season, and his ability to score in bunches has made OKC’s offense difficult to stop. He and Durant complement each other well because both can get to the basket and knock down jumpers at any point in the game, including when the game is on the line. He has 13 games with 30-plus points this year and two games with 40-plus points.
Tonight, Wolves guard JJ Barea will be tasked with matching up with Westbrook for much of the game. Barea did a good job holding All-Star Chris Paul in check against the Clippers on Friday, as Paul finished with eight points on 3-of-8 shooting and eight assists. Meanwhile, Barea finished with 10 points and 11 assists and put together a first half point-assist double-double for the fifth time in franchise history since 1996-97. The others to accomplish the feat were Stephon Marbury in 1998 and 1999, Bobby Jackson in 2000 and Chauncey Billups in 2002.
Beasley’s scoring presence
With Love out tonight and the Wolves battling injuries across the board, the Wolves need a productive scoring night from forward Michael Beasley. If Beasley gets into a rhythm, he can play a big factor in tonight's outcome. Beasley has played in four straight games since coming back from a toe injury, and he’s averaging 11.5 points per game this month on 41 percent shooting. He scored 20 points against the Hornets on April 7 and is coming off a 14-point, 10-rebound game against the Clippers on Thursday. Beasley’s best scoring performance of the year came on Jan. 30, when he scored 34 points on 10-of-14 shooting against the Houston Rockets.
Durant continues to roll
Durant is putting together a legitimate run at this year’s Most Valuable Player award. He was the Western Conference Player of the Month in March, and for the season he is shooting 50 percent from the field and is second only to Kobe Bryant in the league with 27.6 points per game. He’s the go-to scorer for the West’s top team and has 20 games with 30-plus points, three games with 40-plus points and one 51-point game this season.
Ibaka leading the league in blocks
Thunder forward Serge Ibaka continues to lead the league with 3.6 blocks per game this season, and he’s kicked it up a notch in the past two weeks. Ibaka is averaging 5.4 blocks per game this month—he’s had five or more blocks in seven of the team’s eight games in April. Ibaka has put up 10 or more blocks three times this season.
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