T-Wolves Rest Starters And Thunder Roll
By Randy Renner, Senior Writer
Playing on the second night of a back-to-back the Minnesota Timberwolves rested their starters and the Thunder, with key players back from minor injuries, took full advantage winning 112-94.
Because of Minnesota resting so many players it’s a little difficult to really get a solid read on the Thunder but head coach Billy Donovan liked what he saw from several individuals.
Russell Westbrook played almost 31 minutes, by far the most this preseason, scoring 26 points, handing 10 assists while not giving up any turnovers.
Steven Adams returned from his double twisted right ankle to abuse several of the Timberwolves down-the-line bigs including former Thunder backup Cole Aldrich. Adams scored 20 points on 8-for-15 shooting, pulled down 11 rebounds and blocked four shots.
Adams scored his first five buckets off assists from Westbrook in the pick-and-roll.
“I felt like going through last season, their connection continued to get better and improve and they have got a really really good connection in terms of understanding each other. Russell, when he gets downhill does a remarkable job of finding him,” Donovan said. “Steven with his athleticism, his length and his size, he kind of has an understanding of what Russell is going to do and they can feed off of each other. But no question, I felt like to start the game, those two guys and the pick-and-roll was really effective for us.”
Donovan wanted to get more minutes for his main guys and he was able to accomplish that. All five starters played at least 23 minutes with Westbrook logging almost 31.
“The biggest thing for us I think is maintaining a level of consistency over a period of time,” Donovan said. “Overall I thought that it was something that we can look at and build and improve upon.”
Backups Joffrey Lauvergne and Semaj Christon also had a good run, each playing about 22 minutes. Lauvergne, who’s been impressive at times, was 5-for-6 shooting, scoring 11 points while pulling down six rebounds and Christon also scored 11 points while going 5-for-7.
Christon is officially the Thunder’s fourth team point guard but with Cameron Payne out for another several weeks and with Ronnie Price missing a couple of games with a concussion, Christon may be making a case that he deserves a spot on the Thunder’s 15-man roster.
“Like everybody, I do think that Semaj is a competitive guy. He is a really good defender. He can guard multiple positions. I thought he did some good things and some things that he can learn from,” Donovan told reporters.
Christon got the bulk of the backup point guard minutes with Donovan keeping Price on the bench until the fourth quarter but the head coach said that decision was more about just giving Christon a chance to play against NBA competition.
“Sometimes it is different for a guy getting in an NBA game. He hadn’t had a chance to get this experience and this being only the third game that we have played, I wanted to give him the opportunity for him to play a little bit.”
Donovan gave no indication he may be leaning more toward Christon and away from Price, in fact during his pregame session with reporters he was comfortable with Price as Westbrook’s backup, at least until Payne returns from his broken foot.
The Thunder do face some roster decisions in the coming days. Right now the team has 16 players under guaranteed contracts and Christon’s is partially guaranteed.
At least one of those 16 players has to be either traded or waived to get down to the 15-man roster limit for the regular season. If Christon came onto the regular roster, two players with guaranteed deals would have to leave. The team has until the beginning of the regular season to make those cuts.
The Thunder have one more preseason game, set for Tuesday night at home against Denver then the team will have about a week to practice and lock down positions and roster spots before the regular season opener a week from Wednesday at Philadelphia.