Make no mistake about it, there is a rivalry between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Minnesota Timberwolves. Target Center in Minneapolis is the stage for these Northwest division foes as they meet for the third time this season. The Thunder and the Wolves are 3-3 in their previous six meetings dating back to last season.
The Thunder will be without Russell Westbrook, again, tonight — just as they were when they traveled to Minneapolis earlier this November. In each team’s second game of the season, the Wolves jumped out to an early, 34-19, first quarter lead and never looked back. Kevin Love effortlessly managed to attain a double-double (24 points and 12 rebounds) while Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic combined to score 29 — Kevin Durant was held to only 13 points and the Thunder fell by 19, 81-100.
For awhile the Wolves held a lead again, in Oklahoma City, against the Thunder on December 1st. Kevin Martin scored 22 points against his former team through three-quarters and the visitors entered the final quarter leading by five. That’s when “the Durantula” began to spin its web. The Durant takeover wasn’t the late-game, “score on the final x possessions to prevail victorious,” takeover we’re accustomed to seeing performed by an NBA Superstar. Durant may have only scored six-points in the final 12 minutes, but his six assists and clutch 3pt-shooting helped the Thunder roll-over the fatigued Wolves in the final quarter — 113-103.
The Thunder are 25-7, but the absence of Westbrook is a hindrance and OKC has lost two-consecutive games going into tonight. Reggie Jackson has improved, progressively, playing close to 30 minutes a game starting at point guard. Overall Jackson averages 3.7 assists per game but in the last five outings he’s averaged 4.8 in addition to 13 points per game. On the season Jackson has scored one point less per game in appearances off-the-bench, but, as a starter he averages nearly two-more assists per game — Jackson’s assists account for 8.6ppg according to NBA Player Tracking (Stat VU).
Contributions outside the starting-five for the Wolves have been anything but dependable. The lineup of Rubio, Love, Corey Brewer, Pekovic and Martin have played more minutes than any group of players this season, they’ve held the ship steady but only have a .500 record to show for it. J.J. Barea’s five points against the Dallas Mavericks on Monday were the Wolves only bench points, Love determined and vocalized that this type of effort from professional players was ‘unacceptable’. Head Coach Rick Adelman agreed.
“I don’t think that anybody can deny that five points isn’t going to do it for us. It’s the way you do it. Like Kevin said, I don’t think it was malicious.”
Two days later against the New Orleans Pelicans, the bench responded — Barea, Alexey Shved and Dante Cunningham combined to score 37. Were Love’s remarks what sparked to outburst of points?
This is the Wolves sixth opportunity dating back to December to go over the .500 mark with a victory – they are 0-5 in these games. Can the Thunder avoid dropping a third-consecutive game, or will the Wolves starters – again – jump on the Westbrook-less lineup of developing players early never to look back? We’ll find out later tonight.
The Wolves-Thunder is Saving the Skyhook’s Game of the Night for Saturday, January 4th.