Timberwolves Fall Short to Oklahoma City Thunder

(photo credit: SI.com)

(photo credit: SI.com)

OKC’s Kevin Durant missed Monday night’s game with a sprained toe, but even several close points of the game, Minnesota couldn’t pull out a win. The 92-84 loss dropped the Timberwolves’ record to 1-12 in Oklahoma City over the past few seasons. Andrew Wiggins led the Wolves with 23 points, followed by Thaddeus Young with 22. Center Gorgui Dieng had a big night beneath the basket, grabbing 18 boards.

Oklahoma City felt the absence of Durant, who has never missed a game against Minnesota and typically averages 28 points per game when playing the Wolves. Minnesota’s defense proved above average in keeping Russell Westbrook‘s point total down (18 compared to the 25 PPG he has been averaging).

It seems the Wolves can never get everything to work together, however. On a night of decent Minnesota defense, it was a battle of poor shooting from both teams. The Wolves shot just 34.1 percent from the field, while the Thunder made 41.9 percent of their attempts.

Young had another solid performance, giving Minnesota an early 4-2 lead. Monday marked the second consecutive game that head coach Flip Saunders has started Young at the small forward position. Young said he’s enjoyed playing there, as the position helps him see the floor and move the ball more effectively.

Minny held the Thunder to just 2-of-11 to start the game, and Westbrook was a non-factor throughout most of the first quarter. However, OKC fought back and held a decent lead for most of the first half, going on a 6-0 run to start the second quarter.

At one point, the Wolves fell to a 15-point deficit as Dion Waiters and Kendrick Perkins both added a spark off the Thunder bench.

Minnesota battled back to within three, trailing 54-57 at the 5:29 mark of the third quarter, but the excitement for Wolves fans was short lived as Oklahoma City continued to make buckets that its opponents could not answer to.

The game got a bit chippy on more than one instance, and Saunders received a technical foul at one point over a controversial penalty called on Wiggins. The energy was certainly high on the Wolves’ bench, and the team did give a valiant effort to regain a lead in the fourth quarter, scoring 28 points in the final period. In the end, though, it wasn’t enough.

The biggest area in which Minnesota struggled was 3-point shooting. The Timberwolves shot less than 16 percent from behind the arc, Mo Williams making only one of six attempts from downtown.

Oklahoma extended their home win streak to six, while the Wolves lost their 19 out of 21 games and fell to 7-37 overall.

Up next, Minnesota will return home to host the Celtics Wednesday night. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m.

Timberpups Weekly Preview – Week 14

The Timberwolves took a trip to Cleveland to take on the new “big three” including ex-Pup Kevin Love. (Ken Blaze, USA Today Sports)

Guess who is coming to Minneapolis this week? (Ken Blaze, USA Today Sports)

 

Setting the stage:

At 7-36 after Sunday’s loss to the Atlanta Hawks, the Minnesota Timberwolves are officially on pace and watch to finish with the worst record in the NBA and in franchise history.  Truth be told, this wouldn’t be that annoying if Flip Saunders would stop talking about how injuries have derailed the season and would have accepted blowing up the roster by trading Kevin Martin for ten cents on the dollar before the season started.  Saunders must find a way to get out of his contract, as well as finding out if/where there is a market for Nikola Pekovic.  While I want to see more of a Pekovic and Gorgui Dieng frontcourt, the sooner Saunders realizes that a full reset is the best way to go, the sooner this team will become relevant again outside of Minnesota (and one household in New Jersey).

The Pups have a heavy workload this week with four games, including tonight’s game against the OKC Thunder.Here is a preview for each game this week:

Game 44: Monday, 1/26, 7pm – Timberpups @ Oklahoma City Thunder (TV: FS North)

With the Thunder floating around .500 ball with both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook back on the court, it is beginning to look like a lost season for OKC.  Even if they squeak into the playoffs, they are likely on the road to start each series.  While he it mentions it an annoying frequency, I agree with Bill Simmons on the fact that OKC’s ownership blew it by getting rid of James Harden and refusing to pay the luxury tax.

Opponent to watch:

Dion Waiters – OKC’s new Shooting Guard is playing relatively well for the Thunder, averaging over 11ppg.  He’s not Harden, but it was an interesting move to acquire the maligned Waiters.  How he fits in with Durant and Westbrook over the coming months is an interesting storyline worth watching.

Game 45: Wednesday, 1/28, 7pm – Boston Celtics @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

Wednesday night’s game will be the last of a six game road trip for the Celtics, who will have played in Utah on Monday night.  This is a good opportunity for the Pups to take advantage of a team that is probably looking ahead to getting back home.  The Wolves lost big in Boston back in December, with the final score 114-98.

Opponent to watch:

Kelly Olynyk – Olynyk put on a show back on 12/19 against the Pups.  In only 25 minutes, he had 21 points (8-13 FG’s) and 8 rebounds.

Game 46: Friday, 1/30, 6pm – Timberpups @ Philadelphia 76ers (TV: FS North)

Last week’s preview was “We’re going streaking!” and had it not been for Saturday’s game, this week’s preview was going to be “We’re going tanking!” thanks to Friday’s game against the Sixers.  These two teams, along with the Knicks, are in a bloody brawl for the league’s worst record.  Who will come out of this in a better place?  Only a frozen envelope away from that answer …

Opponent to watch:

Nerlens Noel – Noel isn’t lighting up the box score but is seemingly making progress averaging over 8ppg and 7rpg.  It should be a fun matchup between he and Dieng.

Game 47: Saturday, 1/31, 7pm – Cleveland Cavaliers @ Timberpups (TV: FS North)

Well, here we go Wolves fans!  Here is your chance to boo the holy heaven out of Kevin Love … or you can go the other way and cheer him on for bringing some level of competency to the franchise for several years.  There were more than a handful of nights where Love simply dominated the opponent while wearing the Wolves’ uniforms.  Unfortunately, my favorite memory of Love will always be his “What are we doing” tweet after David Kahn drafted seventeen PG’s in the 2009 NBA Draft.

Opponent to watch:

LeBron James – Too easy to pick Love here.  James is the best player on the planet, so in between your cheers and jeers for Kevin, sit back and enjoy LeBron’s game.

Wrap-up:

The scheduling gods are doing the Wolves no favors, consistently flipping back and forth between home and road games throughout the week.  While it would be nice to see a win vs. Cleveland on Saturday night, I don’t have high expectations there.  The Pups do have a legitimate chance of at least splitting W’s and L’s this week though.  Let’s go Wolves!

What’s Thunder Without Lightning?

The Wolves defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder in Minnesota’s second game of the season at Target Center. Over 17,000 attended Minnesota’s second game of the season Friday.

The Thunder were without All Star guard Russel Westbrook and after dealing Kevin Martin to the evening’s opponent during the offseason, Kevin Durant need to do some heavy lifting if he wanted to leave with a victory. Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, Corey Brewer, Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic started the game with an aggressive mentality on offense. They got to the rim, embraced contact, got to the foul line and hit 13 of 14 free-throws in the opening quarter. Rubio was 4 for 4, Love 5 for 6 and both Brewer and Pek went 2 for 2 and the quarter ended with a 34-19 lead.

In the second period backup center Ronnie Turiaf walked to the bench after banging around for a rebound, he grimaced and appeared in pain. We later learned the veteran fractured his elbow and that no timetable has been made for his return. This didn’t prevent from the fans having a blast in the stands, here’s Crunch crowd-surfing in 121, second of the T-Wolves Army — the place was rowdy, the Wolves have returned.

Photo Credit: Todd Dombock

Photo Credit: Todd Dombock

The first half ended with the Thunder trailing by 20 points, 39-59. Minnesota has scored 72 points, combined, in the first quarter of games this season and 159 in the first halves. Consider the idea that the Wolves haven’t worked out all the kinks in Rick Adelman’s Princeton offense and there’s room to improve in terms of efficiency — these guys can score points.

By the end of the third Love and Rubio each had their own double-double, K-Love had 24 points and 12 boards while Ricky had 14 and dished out 10 dimes before period’s end. Big Pek would order his own double-double, tallying 15 points and 10 boards before the starters rested early in the fourth. The Wolves lead was as high as 34 at one point and Durant hinted to the media that something like this could happen prior to tip-off .

“Ever since I got in the league, every game against the Wolves has been either a great game or a blowout,” Durant said at the Thunder’s morning shootaround. “Either they blow us out, or we beat them pretty bad.”

The team’s split the season series last year 2-2 and the home team’s record was 4-0 — the last time the Thunder returned to Oklahoma City, from Minnesota, with a win was April 14th of 2012. Durant is spot-on and these two always seem to entertain at least their own audience, if not both, when getting together. They’ll meet in Oklahoma City for the first time of this season on December 1st.

Derrick Williams saw his first action of the season, making the most of 27 minutes by scoring points and finishing plays with powerful, enthusiastic dunks — he cut well, played within himself and was eager to make plays after not seeing the floor in Wednesday’s opener.

Rookie’s Gorgui Dieng and Shabazz Muhammad, as well as Robbie Hummel, as a whole, played roughly 27 minutes but failed to score. They shot 0 for 5 from the field, Hummel missed a three-pointer and Dieng failed to hit any of his four FT’s during the fourth quarter. I presume we’ll be seeing a lot more of the rookie out of Louisville due to the injury to Turiaf — Hummel and ‘Shabazz’ will compete for minutes backing up Brewer at shooting guard, D-Will played mostly as a power forward while Love rested and Dante Cunningham failed to get things going offensively.

Here’s the final box score.

From the NBA.com Gamebook.

From the NBA.com Gamebook

 

The Wolves face the New York Knicks in Madison Square Garden tonight, tip-off is at 6:30 (CST) and the game will be broadcasted on FoxSportsNorth.

Look for the preview in an hour or two, follow @TimberpupsBlog for play-by-play updates.

 

Zach.

Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves @ Oklahoma City Thunder, 2/22/13

Photo Credit: USA Basketball

Photo Credit: USA Basketball

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? 

Trey:

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?

Trey:

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?  

Trey:

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.