Facing off against the Oklahoma City Thunder for the second time this season, the Minnesota Timberwolves hoped to start 2-0 against the defending Western Conference Champions playing in a sold-out Chesapeake Energy Arena. Once again without head coach Rick Adelman who has missed the previous two games due to personal reasons, the T-wolves simply lacked the star power to gain any sort of control in this game, and fell by a score of 106-84.
With word coming out that Kevin Love will indeed require surgery to repair his broken right hand and will most likely miss between 8 and 10 weeks, the Wolves will now rest their hopes for making the playoffs in a successful return from Ricky Rubio. Rubio appears to be improving his conditioning as of late and did a much better job of staying in front of OKC PG Russell Westbrook than he did the previous time these two teams met. While he did not score a point on 0-3 shooting, Rubio dished out 7 assists in 22 minutes while turning the ball over twice.
JJ Barea was a late scratch due to back spasms, and Luke Ridnour was forced to assume a larger role despite an unfavorable matchup against Westbrook. Ridnour, who has had a miserable time shooting the ball this season, noticeably lacks the quickness he once had and is too often settling for contested jump-shots when he chooses to shoot. His decision-making has been questionable this season, and the Wolves really miss having Rubio be able to play entire games, especially fourth quarters. In 31 minutes, Ridnour had 11 points on 4-9 shooting while turning the ball over 3 times.
With strong play as of late, Derrick Williams was rewarded with 28 minutes of playing time but struggled to get in a groove against a tough defensive frontcourt. Although he recorded 14 points and 11 rebounds, Williams was -23 on the floor and had a very tough time finishing at the rim with Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins defending the basket. The thing that I was most frustrated with was the D-Will attempted only 1 three-point attempt in his 15 shots, and I believe that his three-point shooting will be vital to the Wolves’ success if they are to make a legitimate run at the playoffs.
Keys to the Game
- Turnovers – OKC 12, MN 19: The turnover battle was essential for OKC controlling the game, as Minnesota was never able to effectively get into a rhythm in the half court offense. Russell Westbrook, who averages 3.5 turnovers per game this season, committed only 1 turnover in 30 minutes of play and did a very good job securing the basketball. While we are so often used to seeing Westbrook drive the lane out of control and turning the ball over, he was very smart about deciding when to drive and when to dump off to a teammate. For the Pups, the primary scapegoat was Alexey Shved, who scored 18 points but turned the ball over a game-high 7 times in 39 minutes. One thing that Shved has to pay particular attention to is not leaving his feet before making passes, as it makes him increasingly vulnerable to turnovers which usually lead to transition buckets for the opposing team. On the pick-and-roll, he needs to keep the ball lower and tighter to his body in order to effectively fend off ball swipers on the perimeter, especially because he does not yet have the strength to overpower most of his defenders.
- Three-point Shooting – OKC 11-20, MN 3-13: Nothing new here with the Pups shooting woes from long range. All 3 thee-pointers were knocked down by either one of the two Russian imports, and Minnesota’s best three-point shooter, Derrick Williams, attempted only 1 three-pointer in this game. Missing Love, Barea and Budinger certainly removes most of the Pups ability to shoot threes, but the lack of perimeter shooting by Ridnour this season is very unsettling. Much of Luke’s role on this team for the past two seasons relied on his ability to knock down open three-pointers, but he has been an absolute non-factor from the perimeter this season as shown by his 31% rate from downtown. For OKC, Durant and Westbrook were a combined 5-8 from beyond the arc and Minnesota defenders did not do a good enough job of closing out and contesting shots. Kevin Martin also knocked down 4 of his 7 tries off the bench after missing OKC’s previous matchup against the Wolves.
- Fast Break Points – OKC 23, MN 8: The Thunder capitalized on Minnesota’s turnovers by scoring 23 points in transition, and Durant and Westbrook are simply unstoppable when running the floor on fast breaks. When you shoot yourself in the foot as many times as the Pups did, it is very difficult to win when you have two of the best players in the NBA running the floor in 3-on-2 and 2-on-1 situations.
Three Stars of the Game
- Russell Westbrook – Russ was nearly perfect tonight, controlling the OKC offense while taking over the scoring duties when opportunities presented themselves to him. Needing to play only 30 minutes in the blowout victory, Westbrook scored 23 points on 7-14 shooting (3-4 3FG) while tallying 8 rebounds and 7 assists, he turned the ball over just once and was a game-high +22 on the floor.
- Kevin Durant – He’s lean, he’s mean, he’s KD! OKC’s original superstar gave the fans plenty to cheer about with 26 points on 10-17 shooting (2-4 3FG), 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals, 4 blocks and 3 turnovers. Since the departure of James Harden, both Durant and Westbrook have expanded their games and are doing a little more of everything this season. KD did a great job against one of the top perimeter defenders in Andrei Kirilenko, knocking down seemingly every open look he got tonight and stopping any momentum that the Wolves tried gaining.
- Nikola Pekovic – Big Pek is turning into Mr. Consistency this season and despite playing with an injured hip notched another double-double of 17 points and 10 rebounds (5 offensive). Nikola converted on 6 of his 10 shot attempts, while the Pups did a very poor job of finding him on the low block. At this point, in order for the Wolves to be at their best they are going to need to flow the offense through Pekovic in the low post and initiate the offense with his scoring in the paint. This means more lateral ball movement to the weak-side to allow lane penetration and quick dump offs to Pek waiting on the block.