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Thunder vs T-Wolves Preview: OKC must find quick answers against Minnesota

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Some intestinal fortitude would help too.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Minnesota Timberwolves Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

The Oklahoma City Thunder travel to the Target Center to take on the Minnesota Timberwolves at 7:00 p.m. cst Wednesday a well-rested, though incomplete, team.

That may seem an odd opening considering the game is the Thunder’s second game of a back-to-back, but considering the amount of energy exerted, or more accurately the total lack thereof, in their last two outings, the Thunder should hit the Target Center floor as fresh as daisies.

Daisies may be a bad choice as they are more analogous of the level of toughness the team has shown in embarrassing losses to the lottery-bound Phoenix Suns and a Portland Trail Blazer team minus its franchise player than the iron-like resolve the Thunder will need to overcome a talented Minnesota squad that is hungry to make its mark in the Western Conference.

The post-game interviews after a game WTLC’s Chris Grenham tagged as a “lethargic defeat” were as lifeless as the game itself:

Coach Billy Donovan said the team failed to set a tone early. Paul George said the Thunder are allowing teams to get comfortable. Carmelo Anthony said the good news is the Thunder get to do it again tonight. Patrick Patterson said the Thunder won’t talk too much about this game and Josh Huestis said the Thunder will use the loss as a learning experience.

Response? Right... right.... not if the Thunder decides to lay down again...... sure, let’s sweep another bad loss under the rug.... and finally, you haven’t learned a thing in 41 games, why should we believe you now?

Ignoring what is happening to this team since Andre Roberson went down is the last thing they should do because this team needs an attitude adjustment and they need it now.

Dave Decker, J.A. Sherman’s friend and GM of Portland’s SBNation site Blazer’s Edge, had a few thoughts. In his recap of the game, he wrote two paragraphs that not only summed up the Thunder’s issues last night but in almost every bad loss the Thunder have suffered this season:

This game was decided in the third period and it was decided by an old-school principle: team basketball beats individual talent. None of OKC’s Big Three were bad. Westbrook and Paul George scored 22, Carmelo Anthony 19. Adams even added 16 on 6-8 shooting. They just didn’t help each other. Their entire attack was “me or you”. They had no sense of playing together.

and further...

Oklahoma City’s offensive decisions made Portland’s defensive job simple. The Blazers were barely tested on that end. Players the caliber of Westbrook, Anthony, and George are going to hit shots, and they did. But in the process they went a combined 23-55, barely making their defenders move. The Blazers could dedicate a single person to staying in front of them and shade inside with everyone else, preventing clean drives and uncontested rebounds. After that, all Portland needed to do was keep the Thunder out of transition. OKC scored 13 on the break, but that was not near enough to turn the course of the game.

Sadly, Decker’s words would have been just as spot on had he been talking about the Thunder’s defense, possibly more so.

The Thunder’s offensive woes pale in comparison to the collapse seen on the other end of the floor. The Thunder have allowed 3 opposing players in back-to-back games score 20 or more points. They gave up 117 points to a Portland team that has averaged 103 this season while their primary scoring weapon WAS IN STREET CLOTHES!! Can you imagine what might have happened had Damian Lilliard been healthy?

Granted, the loss of a defensive talent like Andre Roberson hurts, but there is no excuse for the carnage Thunder fans have watched opposing offenses bring upon this team except one, apathy.

When an elite offensive player goes down everyone is eager to rally together to fill the void. Why? Because scoring is fun as well as glorified. Defense, however, is hard work and vastly underappreciated.

Take the Thunder’s victory over the Houston Rockets Christmas day. James Harden scored 29 points and the Thunder won by 5. ESPN credited Roberson for blocking Harden’s late 3 point attempt and then sealing the win with a lay-up a few seconds later, but that hardly tells the story of Roberson’s night. Harden shot 38.9% from the floor and 27.3% from beyond the arc, both below his season average, not because he had an off night, he didn’t. He was just the primary defensive target for Andre Roberson and contained.

Had it not been for the block and the lay-up at the end of the game, Roberson’s name may have never appeared in the ESPN piece and the irony is that Roberson’s most tangible contribution to the win, his yeoman defensive effort throughout the game, was never mentioned.

Roberson is a great defensive talent and any Thunder fan with a lick of sense knows it, but the loss of one talented defensive player does not explain all the easy lay-ups and wide open 3’s the Thunder are giving up, the loss of team defense does.

SBNation’s Seerat Sohi called Roberson a conundrum; a confusing and difficult problem or question. He also said Robes “might be the biggest offensive liability in the NBA”, a statement very hard to prove when comparing the Thunder’s offensive output in the last six games to the 6 before that with a fully functional Andre Roberson.

661 to 674, or 2 points more per game.

Liability? In the Thunder’s 6-game winning streak with Robes, they played one sure-bet lottery team, Atlanta, in the 2 pts/gm scoring bonanza in the following 6, there were 3, the LA Lakers, the Phoenix Suns, and the Dallas Mavericks.

Liability? During the offense’s reprieve from carrying a burden like Robes, the Thunder have gained 12 whole points but given up an extra 59 at the other end. That’s not a liability Mr. Sohi, that is an asset and not even close to the biggest asset Robes brings to this team; his impact.

Impact is difficult to quantify though in the case of a Roberson-less Thunder it is easy to see. Seerat Sohi tried to make his point with numbers, but Robes’ effect on his teammates isn’t a statistical question, at least not entirely, it’s a philosophical one:

From the first day that Andre Roberson donned a Thunder practice jersey, he has dedicated himself to being the best defensive player possible. He lives what Dr. Rigsby spoke of and when his teammates watch Robes they see excellence because he never takes a play off. Defensive excellence is a habit, not an act. He picks up his broom and goes to work and doesn’t just talk about doing the job right, in fact, he hardly talks at all, he just does it right.

Dr. Rigsby spoke of making an impact through education and wisdom, Robes does it with effort and dedication. Now he’s hurt and it is unclear when he will return which leave the Thunder no other option but to take stock, swallow their egos, pick up their brooms, and get back to work.

Poll

Who do you think will win tonight?

This poll is closed

  • 6%
    Thunder
    (5 votes)
  • 93%
    Timberwolves
    (67 votes)
72 votes total Vote Now

(an early morning alarm clock and recent disappointment has relegated watching this one on the DVR, that is, if it isn’t another re-run of a bad episode)