Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Oklahoma City Thunder, 12/20/12

KD & KLSetting the stage:

The Timberwolves return to the Target Center off of a largely unsuccessful trip to Florida and back-to-back road losses against the Magic and Heat.  Nothing really changed during the trip; the team continued to rebound the ball well but their season long struggles in outside shooting, free throw shooting, and missing players as they recover from injury all continued.  Ricky Rubio is expected to play tonight for the Wolves and he’ll be needed against the defending Western Conference champions.  One other key for the Wolves tonight will need to be the resurgence of Alexey Shved.  I’m not sure if he enjoyed the warm weather or Florida, or maybe he enjoyed it too much, but Shved is coming off of two weak performances that the team can’t afford him to have.

The Thunder come into Thursday’s game as the hottest team in the league and winners of 12 straight, putting their record at 21-4 on the year.  They are the league’s #1 team in scoring, averaging 105.6 ppg and are 9th in team defense allowing 96.1 ppg.  After pulling off the biggest trade of the offseason by moving James Harden for Kevin Martin (with other pieces involved) the Thunder are relying more heavily on Durant and Westbrook and they have done nothing but answer the call.  Durant is third in the league in scoring at 27.7 ppg and is averaging 8.5 rbg to boot.  Westbrook is averaging 21.1 ppg and is fifth in the league in assists at 8.8 per game.

Player to watch:

Kevin Durant – In the interest of not throwing a monkey wrench into another key member of the Twolves roster this week, I’m picking an opponent.  I don’t think there is really much to say about Durant though.  All you have to do is sit back, watch and enjoy.  He’s the most prolific scorer in the game and he’s going to be for a very long time.  If KD throws up an 8-27 evening and the Wolves win, I would like an iota of credit.  If he gets hurt, this entire paragraph never happened.

Match-up to watch:

Ricky Rubio vs. Russell Westbrook.  Rubio had a few days of rest since Monday’s game in Orlando.  Hopefully he is ready to play 20 or so minutes tonight and do so effectively.  He has shown that flair in the passing game that everyone fell in love with, but also turned the ball over a few too many times in Orlando.  Several of those looked like plays where he and a teammate were just a little out of sync and something that should be corrected over the coming weeks.  Rubio’s defense will be needed in order to try to contain Westbrook.  It is long documented here on how poorly the Pups’ PG’s have been playing defensively in the first quarter of the season.

Predictions:

The nation is watching the Pups for the second time this week and this one is at the Target Center.  I hope the stadium is rocking for tonight’s game.  At full strength, the Wolves make this a very competitive matchup and series.  Despite their injuries, I’m going to say the Wolves play inspired ball and wear down the Thunder in the second half to squeak out a win.  As an added bonus, the win would give the Pups the @ChampsBelt.  (A great follow for NBA history.)

Final score prediction: Twolves 110, Thunder 106

Three stars of the game predictions:

  1. Kevin Love
  2. Kevin Durant
  3. Ricky Rubio

Let’s go Wolves!