Ugly basketball. That's the best way to describe the Oklahoma City Thunder's play during its losing streak. Stagnant, plodding offense and inefficient, contested shots (24th in the league in assists per game this season), which have plagued OKC most of the season, are rearing their heads amid the team's losing streak. Tonight, the Thunder (8-12) kick off a three-game home stand against the Minnesota Timberwolves (13-9) at 7 p.m.
It's been nine days since Russell Westbrook turned in his best game of the season, as he led OKC to an impressive and convincing route of the defending NBA Champions. OKC's victory against Golden State brought to light this team's ceiling and had optimistic fans and analysts labeling the game as a potential turning point.
Since then, the Thunder have dropped three straight, with their last two losses coming to teams below .500. After a 98-81 loss to the then-4-15 Dallas Mavericks, it felt like rock bottom. The Thunder, consistent in their ability to surprise people in disappointing fashion this season, followed that loss up with an even more lackluster performance as they fell to the Orlando Magic — a team who had dropped its previous nine games — marking the Thunder's seventh consecutive road loss this season.
The Timberwolves, much like their counterpart, are still a work in progress as they attempt to bring together many new faces after a busy offseason. But through 22 games, Minnesota appears much further along in the process as it currently sits fourth in the Western Conference. All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler has largely deferred to his young running mates, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, as he sports averages of 17.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game — a steep drop off from the 23.9 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.5 assists he averaged last season. Towns continues to be a handful offensively, scoring 20.4 points per contest on 52.6-percent shooting. Where the third-year big man fails to excel is defensively, where many of his shortcomings stem from a lack of effort and seemingly a fear of contact.
While middle of the road in numerous categories, Minnesota ranks third in the league in turnovers per game, coughing it up just 13.5 times each contest. The Thunder meanwhile, are tops in the league in forcing turnovers, averaging 17.7 takeaways per game. Something's got to give, right?
Friday's contest between the two teams will be important for each squad. After jumping out to a 7-3 record, the Timberwolves have stagnated in their past 12 games, going just 6-6. While still early, OKC is in danger of losing the season series to Minnesota, having dropped both tilts with the Timberwolves in late October, a fact that could prove important come April when determining playoff seeding.
With a net rating that ranks ninth in the NBA at 2.4 (per NBA.com), the Thunder are better than their record would suggest, but with three 2017 All-Stars on board, it's still not as good as the collective talent of the roster would suggest. With 62 games remaining, it's not time to completely panic, but there is growing cause for concern as the team teeters the fine line between 2010 Heat and 2012 Lakers.
Who do you think will win tonight?
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