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2013-2014 Game 51 Preview: Thunder venture to outrun Timberwolves

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With Pekovic out, can Barea and Cunningham deliver the Timberwolves to the promiseland?

William Bennett Berry

The above is a piece of art created and sold by our site's photoshop artist, William Bennett Berry. Bennett would like to inform you of a serious threat to his livelihood. The Oklahoma House of Representatives and the Governor are currently putting forth proposals that are aimed at destroying or severely re-organizing the Oklahoma Arts Council. The Council represents very little of our state's budget (1/10th of 1%!), and its' dissolution would result in the loss of many jobs and opportunities for those working in the field. As somebody who knows quite a few local artists who are dependent upon this organization, I support his cause.

You can find out more about the situation here and here.

2013-2014 NBA Season
Won 1

Won 1
February 5th 2014
Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
7:00 PM Central Standard Time
TV: Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, Fox Sports Network North
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM/640 AM), WCCO NewsRadio 830
Injury Report: Russell Westbrook (Out), Nikola Pekovic (Out)
Previous Matchups: Nov 1, Dec 1, Jan 4 (Thunder Lead Season Series 2-1)
Probable Starters
Ricky Rubio PG Reggie Jackson
Kevin Martin SG Thabo Sefolosha
Corey Brewer SF Kevin Durant
Kevin Love PF Serge Ibaka
Ronny Turiaf C Kendrick Perkins
2013/14 Advanced Stats
97.8 (8th) Pace 97.7 (9th)
104.9 (9th) ORtg 107.3 (7th)
102.2 (T-10th) DRtg 99.0 (3rd)

Do you like fast paced, hard-hitting offense with lots of disorganization and turnovers? If your answer is yes, then tonight's Thunder-Timberwolves game is for you.

In the three times we've seen these teams match up this season, that's been the only common link. Both teams love to use exciting defensive plays as the basis for quick offensive attacks, leading to final scores that can number well above 100. Furthermore, both teams have dynamic offensive weapons that are almost impossible to shut down all at once, so somebody's usually going to be able to carry the load for either side.

Beyond that, the nature of this matchup is extremely hard to predict. Every quantifiable variable has gone in both directions, and no player seems to have an outright offensive or defensive advantage against the other. For example, right after the New Year, KD scored 48 points against the Timberwolves, his season high at the time. Oddly enough, his season low of 13 points had also come against the Timberwolves, this time on November 1st.

So, what swings the competitive balance in either direction? Circumstances. During early November, the Thunder hadn't seen Russell Westbrook return to the team yet, and they were giving heavy minutes to young players on the bench. Serge Ibaka was in a really odd early-season funk, and the T-Wolves had something to prove. So Minnesota blew the Thunder out. The second game featured Westbrook in Oklahoma City's lineup, and the Durant-Westbrook combo was too much for Minnesota's defense to handle in the late goings of that game. The Third game featured Westbrook absent from OKC's lineup again, and came at a time when the Thunder were struggling to see consistent offensive production from their role players. Minnesota was able to play them to a draw, with KD's heroics narrowly snatching the victory for Big Blue.

You'll notice that all of the variables that I listed above had to do with the Thunder, and that was with good reason. For the Timberwolves came into each game equally equipped, and generally playing at around the same level. But tonight, Nikola Pekovic will not be playing. The team has been able to survive without him, posting a 3-2 record. Still, Pekovic does pack quite an offensive punch, and the team has definitely had to shift focus in his absence. Case in point: The Timberwolves have averaged 99 points over their past 5 games, compared to a season average of 106.

What do the Timberwolves do differently? Well, Pekovic's shots seem to have migrated to a pair of bench contributors: J.J. Barea and Dante Cunningham. The earlier man's extreme speed has been a thorn in the Thunder's side for years, and I have no doubt that he'll have little difficulty getting to the basket against Derek Fisher tonight. Cunningham is a crafty, physical forward that specializes in great off-ball movement. He also has a limited, but effective arsenal for getting around most opponents on the weak side, and is quicker than most people you'll see at that position.

Obviously, with quickness being a key factor in the scouting reports on both of these players, they possess the potential to tear the Thunder up for a few easy points. But I'm not sure sure it represents doomsday as much as a maintaining of the balance between these two teams. I mean, Pekovic never had many problems scoring on us, and we've overcome his presence before.

Thus, I'm predicting this game to come down to the wire. At the end of the day, both of these teams have a ton of offensive firepower, and Minnesota's quickness advantage in the backcourt makes up for their lack of talent on the bench. Really, we're all just hoping that KD and Kevin Love get into a scoring battle while Lamb and Sefolosha prove their superiority over K-Mart.

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 109, Minnesota Timberwolves 107.

What do you think of tonight's game? Let us know in the poll and comments!