|2012-2013 NBA Season|
The Minnesota Timberwolves (12-11)
|December 20th, 2012|
|The Target Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota|
|6:00 PM CST|
|Turner Network Television Only|
|WWLS the Sports Animal (98.1), WCCO News Radio 830|
|Previous Meetings: None.|
|Russell Westbrook||PG||Luke Ridnour (Rubio?)|
|Thabo Sefolosha||SG||Alexsey Shved|
|Kevin Durant||SF||Andrei Kirilenko|
|Serge Ibaka||PF||Kevin Love|
|Kendrick Perkins||C||Nikola Pekovic|
Rubio is back! Well, sort of.
After a long rebuilding process, the Timberwolves finally look like they're ready to complete. When they're healthy. Which is never. Kevin Love missed a good portion of the early season with an injury, Brandon Roy has been out for a good deal of time, Chase Budinger is going to miss three months, and even reserves Malcolm Lee and Josh Howard are currently dealing with injuries. Right now, Ricky Rubio is slowly coming back from a severe knee injury, and was held out of last night's game after being given light minutes in the previous two.
Rubio has looked as stellar as ever, and, once they're healthy, the T-Wolves look poised to finally secure a playoff run after years of post-KG trauma. But can the T-Wolves start making a serious run at things with a shocker of a win tonight?
Well, that depends on a lot of things. The T-Wolves are a team that make their living on rebounding, getting to the line, and avoiding silly fouls on defense. This could spell trouble for the Thunder, because they have the most trouble against teams that can rebound well and don't foul.
The answer is a good, solid defense. Most teams will score roughly the same amount of points on the Timberwolves, somewhere around 105. But the teams that are successful against them will generally hold the Timberwolves to under 100, while teams that aren't successful let the Timberwolves go crazy offensively.
How do the Thunder accomplish solid defensive stops? Well, the obvious guy to point to is Kevin Love. He's been shooting an atrocious percentage from the floor tonight and relies heavily on his ability to get to the line. Thus, Serge Ibaka should play him on the ground when he can, forcing Love to take tough shots but not fouling himself out of the game.
Love's success alone isn't a good barometer for how the Timberwolves will do overall, though. The Timberwolves have a variety of offensive options, with 6 guys averaging 10 points or more. Pekovic can bang with you inside, Ridnour can shoot threes or run by you into the post, Kirilenko has a nice mid-range game, JJ Barea is one of the quickest players in the NBA, and Alexsay Shved is a sharpshooter from CSKA. Take your pick as to who the Thunder are gonna stop.
But as Benjamin Polk of A Wolf Among Wolves notes, beating the Timberwolves starts with beating them on the perimeter. If the Timberwolves come out shooting cold, they generally will continue to shoot cold and throw all their cards into scoring inside the paint. If that occurs, the Thunder can rely on the solid defense of Perkins and Ibaka to pull out a solid victory. But if the Thunder trap too much and the Timberwolves get confident, then we might be in for a tight one.
It should also be noted that the Timberwolves are a team that really struggles with turnovers, especially with wunderkind Ricky Rubio out of the picture. One particular player isn't really the source of their problem, but sometimes they'll commit silly offensive fouls near the paint, get double-teamed, or miss badly in an attempt to get fouled. The Thunder aren't a great team when it comes to forcing TOs, but if they can get it at the right time, they just might be able to spark a run.
Anyway, the Timberwolves have definitely improved and will be a legitimate playoff team when the season is said and done. But I don't think they have the tools to beat a Thunder team that's this hot right now. The Thudner aren't great rebounders, but they don't get beat often, and they've forced even the craftiest teams into committing fouls. A team that beats the Thunder needs better shooting and overall offensive firepower. That's not to say the Timberwolves can't win. They're perfectly capable of doing so. I just think the Thunder have the overall advantage.
Oh, and if Rubio comes back, then be prepared to buckle your seatbelts. (Thanks, Ralph Lawler.)
Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 107, Minnesota Timberwolves 98.