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Thunder vs Timberwolves Preview: Time to Steamroll or Panic

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If OKC can't run over the Wolves at home, it's panic time.

William Berry

Where They At: Thunder

The playoffs are still in question for the Thunder. The Pelicans have a tougher remaining schedule, but they’re also playing better basketball than the Thunder. And Kevin Durant is out at least another week. Is it time to panic?

Against the Clippers, Russell Westbrook had nowhere to go. Los Angeles doubled and tripled him all night, and no one outside of Anthony Morrow did much to make them pay. The starters were especially bad, with Andre Roberson and Kyle Singler apparently operating under a golf scoring mindset. It’s tempting to place the blame on a mismatched starting lineup and rotation being run out by Scott Brooks every night. Against the Clippers, the starters were all in the negative for +/-, and every bench player had a positive rating. From the start, the Thunder gave up a flood of buckets, leading some to call for Brooks to insert more defense into the starting unit (axe Roberson). Or more offense (sit Kanter). Or more of both, somehow. The only real possibility I see would be for Brooks to yank Singler for Dion Waiters (sliding Roberson to the 3), and/or to flip Steven Adams into Enes Kanter’s starting spot. And I don’t see him caving this far from the finish line.

The starters/reserves splits might have been misleading, anyway. Brooks runs Russ with the bench unit to close both the 1st and 3rd quarters, and the Clippers reserves are arguably the worst among contenders (especially as Blake Griffin’s absence makes their rotation even more shorthanded). Minnesota is the kind of team that can make any opponent’s rotation look brilliant, so expect the same-look Thunder, but perhaps with some more intensity. If they don't steamroll the Wolves, then desperate measures could be on Brooks' mind in a hurry.

Where They At: Timberwolves

This team isn’t very good. Andrew Wiggins looks great, but his raw rookie counterpart Zach LaVine is getting a lot of minutes, and might get even more over Kevin Martin to speed his development. Ricky Rubio is the distributing savant we know and love, but he might be less than 100% and isn’t going to fill the scoring gap that this team needs every night. Nikola Pekovic is seeing limited minutes because of a bum ankle. Thaddeus Young is gone. Gorgui Dieng is active in racking up counting stats, but ineffective overall. Shabazz Muhammad is done. Minnesota is somehow relying on Kevin Garnett and Gary Neal to give them a shot at a win these days.

The Matchup

The Wolves are 5-25 on the road. The Thunder are 21-9 at home. This shouldn’t be complicated. It’s basically like playing through the Sixers at ho—oh wait, they forced overtime and almost took the Thunder out.

I expect Russ to bounce back against Rubio, who isn’t the pesky defender, nor the lethal shooter that Chris Paul is. And I expect the home bump for Thunder role players to still be there (they actually came out raining threes at home against the Clippers). The Thunder couldn’t need this victory more right now, and the Wolves couldn’t care less.

In my short time at WTLC, I’ve strung together an impressive 3-game incorrect prediction streak. I’m ready to dig myself out of this hole. If the Thunder let me down against a hobbled Minnesota team, both my previews and OKC’s playoff hopes are likely snakebitten.

2014-15 NBA Season Game
@
14-49
(Lost 2)

35-29
(Lost 1)
March 13th, 2015
Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK
7 PM Central Standard Time
TV: Fox Sports Oklahoma, Fox Sports North Plus
Injury Report: Kevin Durant, Shabazz MuhammadAnthony Bennett, Robbie Hummel (Out), Nikola Pekovic (Questionable), Steve Novak (Probable)
This Season's Matchups: Dec. 12 (W 111-92), Jan. 26 (W 92-84)
Probable Starters
Russell Westbrook PG Ricky Rubio
Andre Roberson SG Kevin Martin
Kyle Singler SF Andrew Wiggins
Serge Ibaka PF Adreian Payne
Enes Kanter C Nikola Pekovic