No rest for the wicked. The Timberwolves hot off a win over the Atlanta Hawks Tuesday night, flew directly to Oklahoma City early Wednesday morning as they'll face the Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Minnesota is coming off that five-point over Atlanta on Tuesday as Nikola Pekovic went for 25pts & a career-high 18 rebounds and AK added 21pts in a 108-103 win. You can check out the full gameday recap of that one in the previous post on this site.
The Oklahoma City Thunder haven't play since Jan. 7th (Monday) when the Washington Wizards shocked OKC in Washington with a 99-101 victory. Rookie Bradley Beal hit a jumper with just 0.3 seconds remaining to lift the Wizards to their 5th win of the season and an improbable underdog win of the Western Conference powerhouse Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Thunder have had a full day off to regroup after that loss and will look to come out strong against a team that handed them a loss earlier in the season that snapped a 12-game OKC win streak. On Dec. 20th the Wolves handed the Thunder a 99-93 loss. Minnesota built of a 30-18 first quarter and a late push via J.J. Barea (14 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter) for a six-point W. Kevin Love had 28pts, 11reb, 7ast, 2blks; Pek added 24pts, 10reb, 1stl, 2blks; Barea had that big fourth quarter and finished with 18pts, 4reb, 2ast, 1stl and rookie Alexey Shved had a great all-around game as he went for 12pts, 7reb, 12ast, 1stl.
The Minnesota Timberwolves come into this game one-game over .500 at 16-15, 6-10 on the road, 3-4 vs. the Northwest division, 9-8 vs. the Western Conference and 4-6 in their last ten games. The Oklahoma City Thunder are 26-8 this season, 17-3 at home, 2-1 vs. the Northwest (that one loss coming vs. MIN), 14-3 vs. the Western Conference and 6-4 in their last ten games.
Word came today that Kevin Love would miss the next 8-12 weeks with that broken hand, because it requires surgery--had the hand not required surgery he would've been out for that same 4-6 week timeframe he faced earlier this season. Beyond Love; Brandon Roy, Chase Budinger and Malcolm Lee are all still out with knee injuries. You can find out more about all four of the players listed above on our Injury Report under the Team Report header on this site. Ricky Rubio & Nikola Pekovic returned to action last night. Pek missed the final quarter of Minnesota's loss on a Saturday with a hip strain, but he returned and had a HUGE game vs. the Hawks last night. Ricky Rubio had missed four consecutive games with back spasms, but returned last night to have a great game: 4pts, 8ast, 4stls in 19 minutes off the bench! Tonight, Ricky will play in his first back-to-back game of the season, however I'd still expect his minute limit to be around 20.
The Wolves will also be without head coach Rick Adelman for the second-straight game. He missed Monday's practice and Tuesday's game for a personal reason. A few rumors make it sound like he's dealing with a family emergency, but it has nothing to do with his personal health, however from what I've heard/read it sounds like he could be gone for 'a while'. Terry Porter will continue to be acting head coach for this one vs. OKC.
The Oklahoma City Thunder have no significant injuries at this time and everyone is expected to be available for tonight's game. The last time these two teams met, the Thunder were without their 6th man Kevin Martin. He was out for that 6-point loss on Dec. 20th with a quad injury, he's expected to play tonight, which will be big for the Thunder.
Let's take a look at the probable starting lineups in this one...
Tonight's game relies heavily on containing four Thunder players, which is a task that's near impossible. Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka and Kevin Martin are the reason this team is a legitimate championship team.
I'm most worried about Russell Westbrook and who will be guarding him/if we have someone that can guard him. Russ has scored 45 (career-high), 35 & 30 points in his last three games and over that time is averaging 37.0ppg, 7.0apg and 47% FG (stats via @WolvesRadio via Twitter). I highly doubt Luke Ridnour, Alexey Shved or J.J. Barea have a chance against him defensively. I hope coach will put Rubio on the floor when Westbrook is as Ricky is clearly our best perimeter defender...unfortunately he's on a 20 minute cap. Here's hoping Andrei Kirilenko can contain MVP-candidate KD. AK definitely has the defensive capabilities, however it'll depend on the whistle tonight as to who wins this matchup. I have a feeling we'll see a number of head-scratching fouls against Kirilenko tonight.
The matchups I'm not worried about are in the post: Cunningham vs. Ibaka & Pekovic vs. Perkins. Cunningham has been showing why he's one of our best defensive players (likely second or third behind Kirilenko and Rubio). The best thing about his defensive game is that although he's a 6'8" power forward, he's a very versatile defender with some perimeter defense skills as well. Lastly, Pek vs. Perk, Nikola has been on fire lately and with Kevin Love out, I don't see him slowing down in the least bit. I am a bit worried about Pek around the rim if Ibaka is hanging around ready to send shots back with ease. Should make for a VERY good battle in the post. Hopefully Dante can space the floor with his mid-range jumper (or D-Will with his three-point shooting/mid-range jumpers) to open space down low for Pek to operate and keep Ibaka hanging around 12-17 feet instead of patrolling the paint to block shots.
Even without Kevin Love, we're in for a very good game tonight. Tipoff is set for 7pmCT and full gameday recap can be found here following the final horn! Thanks for reading HOWL and GO WOLVES!
Cody D. Anderson
A Wolves fan bringing you Gameday Recaps all season long!