|2012-2013 NBA Season|
|January 9th, 2012|
|Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma|
|7:00 PM CST|
|Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, WFTC My Network TV 29|
|WWLS the Sports Animal (98.1), WCCO News Radio 830|
|Enemy Blogs: Canis Hoopus, T-Wolves Blog, Timberpups, A Wolf Among Wolves, Howlin' T-Wolf|
|Previous Meetings: Dec 20th (Timberwolves Lead Season Series 1-0)|
|Luke Ridnour||PG||Russell Westbrook|
|Aleksey Shved||SG||Thabo Sefolosha|
|Dante Cunningham||SF||Kevin Durant|
|Andrei Kirilenko||PF||Serge Ibaka|
|Nikola Pekovic||C||Kendrick Perkins|
The Timberwolves shocked the Thunder with their December 20th victory, stopping a 12 game win streak and putting themselves on the NBA map. But now, with Kevin Love sidelined with injuries and Kevin Martin returning to the lineup, it remains to be seen whether the T-Wolves can become an elite team and guarantee a series tie with the Thunder.
After the hubbub of the return of Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio, the Timberwolves haven't really done much more than tread water at .500. Unfortunately, the return of Love was disappointing, as he shot 35% from the field and 21% from three. Rubio hasn't been the greatest either, battling constant back injuries and only getting spot minutes where he focuses solely on distribution.
But, other players have definitely started to step it up. Aleksey Shved has become a bigger part of his team's passing game, acting as the defacto starting point guard. He's also doing his best to revitalize the team's three point shooting, which has suffered lately. In the post, Montenegrin Nikola Pekovic has become almost more effective than Kevin Love was, scoring with the force and efficiency necessary to win games.
Is this enough to beat the Thunder? Probably not. While the argument could be made that the T-Wolves are better without Kevin Love holding their offense hostage, it's easy to say that the Thunder are better with Kevin Martin. They're especially better when Reggie Jackson isn't playing at the end of the fourth quarter as a shooting guard for no good reason.
But the key to tonight's victory will be Serge Ibaka. I know he's not good at a transition game, but there's no good reason the Thunder can't slow down their offense a few times and get this dude some looks. The Timberwolves will likely play a zone defense against the Thunder again, and if they can't rely on their regular players to hit shots, then they're going to have to rely way too heavily on Durant and Westbrook to carry the team.
On the T-Wolves side, it's all about taking smart threes, keeping turnovers low, and riding the legs of J.J. Barea, who seems to have an innate talent for destroying our team. However, the above is easier said than done, because the team usually stinks it up from three, and doesn't have a solid offensive rock to carry them forward. If one or two guys have a bad offensive night, it can really ruin the batch. Furthermore, they're one of the leagues higher turnover teams because they attempt a lot of risky passes and spread ballhandling duties among four players. J.J. Barea is a lock to do well though, so they've got that going for them.
Anyway, after the "suffering" of a 2-2 stretch, I've got to predict a win tonight, right? We're at home, the T-Wolves are on the second night of a back-to-back from Minnesota, and Kevin Martin's here this time. The odds are in our favor, so let's roll.
Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 103, Minnesota Timberwolves 98.
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