Scouting Report: Wolves at Thunder
Wolves (23-25) at Thunder (35-12) - 7 p.m. at Chesapeake Energy Arena
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.
Coming into their last of a long stretch of road games with a 2-4 record on the trip, the Timberwolves will need a surge of energy for their matchup with division-leading Oklahoma City Thunder tonight at 7 p.m. at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
The Wolves have been plagued with injuries as of late and are coming off a 116-100 loss to the Spurs Wednesday night. Forced to go it without starting center Nikola Pekovic, who was sent home to receive treatment for his ankle, the Wolves lacked presence in the paint, allowing Tim Duncan a 21-point, 15-rebound game and getting outrebounded 56-41. Wolves guard JJ Barea had a team-high 18 points and 11 assists and Kevin Love had 17 points and 12 rebounds. The Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard, Gary Neal and newly acquired Stephen Jackson scored 16 points apiece on the night.
The Thunder come off a 114-91 victory over the Clippers Wednesday in which Thunder forward Kevin Durant scored 32 points and guard Russell Westbrook added 19. Clippers forward Blake Griffin only managed 7 points on the night as the Thunder outscored them in the paint and outrebounded them 49-31.
Oklahoma City has been a tough place to play all season, with the Thunder holding a 20-4 record at Chesapeake Energy Arena. The Wolves enter the game with an 11-13 record on the road.
Last time out
The Timberwolves haven’t faced Oklahoma City since their season-opening 104-100 loss at Target Center Dec. 26. Despite out-performing the Thunder in several key areas (more points in the paint, more rebounds, more second-chance points and fewer turnovers), the Wolves couldn’t contain Durant, who led the game with 33 points. Wolves forward Michael Beasley led Minnesota with 24 points, and Love added 22 points and 12 rebounds.
Key matchup: Love and Durant
Wolves Minute with John Focke
Forwards Kevin Love and Kevin Durant have both led their respective teams this season, with Love averaging 25.7 points and 13.7 rebounds per game for Minnesota and Durant averaging 27.6 points and 7.9 rebounds per game for Oklahoma City. With Pekovic not expected to return for tonight’s game, Love’s presence on the boards becomes that much more crucial tonight. The Wolves can’t afford to allow Oklahoma City additional shots on their offensive possessions like the Spurs received on Wednesday, so cleaning up the glass and keeping Durant out of the offensive end will be important.
A deep back court
The Thunder have had an incredibly deep back court all season, led by All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook’s 23.8 points and 5.4 assists per game. He’s teamed with Thabo Sefolosha and James Harden for much of the year giving the Thunder a solid collection of shooting guards—Harden is averaging 17.0 points and 4.2 rebounds a game in 31.9 minutes a night, primarily off the bench. But with the loss of backup point guard Eric Maynor to injury earlier this year, the Thunder added a little extra depth this week by signing free agent Derek Fisher. Fisher, who was traded from the Lakers to Houston at the deadline and received a buyout from the Rockets, signed with the Thunder and gives them immediate veteran leadership. For a team looking to snatch its first NBA championship, Fisher and his five NBA titles will give them an extra push come playoff time. He played 19 minutes and scored five points in his first game with the Thunder on Wednesday.
The Wolves have mixed and matched their back court since losing Ricky Rubio for the season, beginning with a combination of point guard play from Luke Ridnour and JJ Barea. Ridnour has produced four point-assist double-doubles in this past seven games, including an 18-point, 13-assist effort against Utah on March 15. Barea is coming off an 18-point, 11-assist night against San Antonio on Wednesday and has 10-plus assists in his past two games. Meanwhile at the shooting guard position, Martell Webster has scored in double-digits in four of the past five games--shooting 54.8 percent from the floor in that span--while Wayne Ellington is coming off a 15-point game on 7-of-11 shooting against San Antonio.
Blocked shots have not been a pivotal statistic for the Timberwolves this season, as they are tied for 28th in the league averaging 4.1 blocks per night and are 22nd in opponents’ blocked shots at 5.7 per contest. But tonight’s game against the Thunder could be a different story. Led by forward Serge Ibaka, the Thunder are the best shot-blocking team in the league. OKC averages 7.9 blocks per game, led by Ibaka’s league-leading 155 blocks. He’s registered 10-plus blocks in a game three times this year, including a triple double (14 pts, 15 rebounds, 11 blocks) against Denver on Feb. 19. The Wolves’ leading shot-blocker is Wes Johnson, who has 32 blocks this season.
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