The Timberwolves travel to Oklahoma City on Friday night to take on the defending Western Conference champion Thunder. Minnesota comes into the game off of a victory against Philadelphia Wednesday night to move their record to 20-31 on the season. The Thunder come into Friday’s game off a loss to the Rockets in Houston the same night, dropping their record to 39-15.
While these two teams are heading in very different directions this season, they tend to match-up well against one another and always seem to be enjoyable games to watch. That wasn’t necessarily the case when Minnesota traveled to OKC on 1/9, as they were blown out of the building, 106-84. This could have been a product of the Thunder returning the favor for their loss at the Target Center on 12/20.
A quick note about the trade deadline from Thursday – the Wolves made exactly zero moves to their roster and I have to say that I am not disappointed. Derrick Williams can only help his trade value from now until the 2013 draft. The team isn’t good enough to push Ridnour or Barea off to someone else for a short term rental (since we aren’t making the playoffs this season). Finally, a semi-kudos to the team for not making a salary dump move to save a few dollars in Glen Taylor’s wallet. Net/net, this team will be very active again this summer and has a full stock of assets to leverage.
While the Wolves stood pat, the Thunder made two minor moves that probably make them a bit stronger for the playoffs. In separate trades, they sent Eric Maynor to the Blazers for a trade exception and acquired Ronnie Brewer from the Knicks for a 2nd round pick. (I wonder if James Harden’s explosion Wednesday night aided their desire to make this move and get a little bigger in the back court.)
Oklahoma City remains a powerhouse in the Western Conference and have high aspirations come playoff time. Led by perennial all-stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the team will look to work its way through the Western Conference and once again challenge for the NBA Championship. Anything less is likely to be seen as a disappointment to fans.
With that mindset, this preview has been done in conjunction with the ‘Welcome to Loud City’ blog on SB Nation. Here are the questions that we posed to J.A. Sherman from the team’s blog. He passed along a few Wolves-related questions as well, and you can find those questions and our answers on their site.
Here’s were my questions for Trey …
Thunder Question #1 for Trey:
As a fan of the Thunder, can you please explain the mindset of “championship or bust” to us Wolves fans, who have been continuously tortured since 1989? Do these expectations make the games easier or harder to watch regularly? Would you consider anything less than a conference championship a failure?
As a Thunder fan, it’s certainly nice to have “championship or bust expectations.” It’s like being the Yankees of the NBA and the team has only been in the city since 2008. It makes the game easier to watch because you’re always dissecting the team’s play, no matter the opponent. Even if they’re on top for most of the game, it’s still fun to see what Durant and Westbrook are going to do next. Of course there are blowouts and nobody likes watching 48 minutes of a 20-point game, but it’s worth the price for 50-win seasons and Finals appearances.
This season, anything less than a conference championship would have to be considered a disappointment. I doubt there is anybody in the organization that feels any other way. After taking the step last year with their WCF win over San Antonio, it’s hard to imagine the Thunder would be satisfied with anything less. They’ve got the same two stars and although they sent Harden to Houston, Kevin Martin is still a good enough scorer to give them substantial firepower off the bench.
Thunder Question #2 for Trey:
Is there a particular weakness for the Thunder and/or do you fear that there might be something in the current construction of the team that could be exploited down the stretch and in the playoffs? Coming off Harden’s performance Wednesday, does an elite wing worry you?
I think one thing that showed up against Houston and also against the Heat before the All-Star Game is the fact Oklahoma City has problems running their offense while down late in games. I think it becomes too much Durant and Westbrook one-on-one rather than finding a good shot every possession. People tend to blame Westbrook because he’s the point guard. However, it’s just as much Durant’s fault. They both tend to force shots when the team is trailing late. Could a team in the West exploit this? I don’t think so because I’m not sure the Spurs or Clippers can develop big leads against the Thunder and force them into those one-on-one situations.
Well, if you consider LeBron James a wing, which I do, then I would be extremely worried. Harden and LeBron are obviously different players with much different arsenals and Harden is great, but in a seven-game series I’m not worried about him taking over for four victories. However, LeBron has dominated the Thunder this season. They don’t have an answer for him right now and unless newly acquired Ronnie Brewer can give him problems, the Heat could be looking at a second straight Finals victory over the Thunder.
Thunder Question #3 for Trey:
Rather than ask you a question about Durant or Westbrook, let’s go deep into the rotation. What are your thoughts on Hasheem Thabeet? Do you think he has a long term future in the league? Is there a light bulb there that might go off? Finally, how would you grade his (limited) performance thus far?
I’m not sure Hasheem Thabeet has a long-term home in Oklahoma City, but he is putting up better numbers than last year’s backup center Nazr Mohammed. He seems to be a popular player in the locker room and usually give Scott Brooks quality minutes, but it’s hard to see him developing into much more than a 10-12 minutes kind of player.
I would give him a B so far this season. Like I said, he’s outplayed Mohammed’s production from a year ago, but with his size and frame you would think he could have more of an impact every night. Unless the Thunder moves Kendrick Perkins for somebody with more of an offensive game in the future, I can’t see the Thunder hanging on to Thabeet. This is already his fourth team since being drafted No. 2 overall by the Grizzlies in 2009 and I doubt it’s his last.
To see our Pups-related Q&A, please click here.
We hope you enjoyed the preview for this Friday’s match-up between the Pups and the Thunder. Again, you can read more from J.A. at the Welcome to Loud City blog or follow them on Twitter. As always, you can read more from John on Twitter.