Time: 7:00 PM Central Standard Time
Place: Oklahoma City Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
TV: FSOKHD, FOX Sports North
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1), 99X 97.9 FM
Previous Meeting(s): Thunder 118, Timberwolves 117 (OT)
Tonight the Timberwolves are coming to town to continue the stretch run of what halds to be a very discouraging season. Leading into this season, I doubt anyone would have thought that they could contend with the Thunder, Nuggets, or Trail Blazers, I think it was surprising to see the team could not gel together more to get any sort of winning streaks going this season. They will be facing a lottery off-season once more.
So of course the challenge for the Thunder tonight is, how do they get up on the Wolves early to preclude any sort of upstart momentum?
Keep in mind that a 5-31 road team is a 5-31 road team. What I mean by this is, even if the Wolves get out to an early lead (like they did last game), to never lose sight of the fact that the Wolves are not a good team. They can go through spurts where their offense flows naturally through point guard Luke Ridnour and Michael Beasley. There will be moments when Anthony Randolph shows the flashes that helped net him 31 points in their last game against the Mavericks. They have the talent to go on runs. However, what separates the Wolves from a team with a winning record is what happens in between. They lose focus. Beasley forces bad shots. Ridnour gets overwhelmed defensively. They have a way of undoing their good efforts. And like the Thunder, their coach Kurt Rambis is going through his own growing pains. In the end, as long as the Thunder stay consistent, the Wolves can become their own worst enemy.
Rebounding, defense. It is my own personal broken record, but I'll state it again. The way a poor team becomes a dangerous team is by getting additional opportunities on offense. Early on this season, Charles Barkley infamously said that the Thunder have no shot this year because they don't rebound and they don't play defense. As we know, their defense is improving. However, what has gone unnoticed is that so has their rebounding. The Thunder are now ranked 8th in the league in team rebounding, and they have turned a negative into a positive. They lost to the Heat earlier this year because they could not get a defensive rebound. That problem appears to have been eradicated.
- Be patient at the point. Russell Westbrook was a difference-maker against the Jazz, and we know that he chomps at the bit when he sees a match-up like the one against Ridnour where he has clear advantages. At his best, Westbrook bides his time in the first three quarters and then when the team is in a good place, he goes to work and tears up the lesser guards. However, at his worst, Westbrook goes too hard too early and ends up with an 11 assist, eight turnover game. I think that if the Thunder can simply play consistent and even in the first half without Westbrook and Kevin Durant exerting themselves, they can turn the game in a hurry in the 2nd half by bringing their full force. I'd look for this type of pattern tonight, which will hopefully lead to another 4th quarter with KD and the badger chilling out on the bench with smiles on their faces.
Prediction: Thunder 107, Timberwolves 90