By Randy Renner
Tonight’s Thunder game against the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves sets up as the classic “trap” game. A trap the Thunder will try their best to avoid stepping right into.
Coming in between a big win on Wednesday night against the LA Clippers, a team nipping at the Thunder’s heals in the Western Conference playoff race, and a road showdown with the San Antonio Spurs, is tonight’s visit from the Timberwolves a team the Thunder have beaten 12 straight times at The Peake.
Minnesota has struggled all season and comes into tonight’s game at just 20-45 on the season and have lost 17 of their last 19 games on the road. But the T-Wolves also have players more than capable of giving the Thunder troubles.
All five Minnesota starters are averaging at least 9.6 points a game and rookie center Karl Anthony-Towns, the favorite for NBA Rookie of the Year, is averaging a double-double (17.7 points and 10.2 rebounds). Andrew Wiggins leads them in scoring at 20.7 a game and Zach LaVine can be a total terror. He scored a season-high 35 points on 17-for-14 shooting against OKC when these teams met in Minneapolis. A game the Thunder barely won, 126-123.
So the Timberwolves appear capable of pulling the upset especially if the Thunder help them out with some turnovers and sloppy defense.
And defense has been a problem for Minnesota so the high-powered Thunder could rack up a lot of points tonight off-setting whatever defensive problems the Thunder themselves might have.
The Thunder are coming off that 120-108 win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday night. It was their second straight win following a tough 2-6 stretch, which moved them 2 1/2 games ahead of the Clippers for third place in the Western Conference.
Russell Westbrook led the way that night with a historic performance, scoring 25 points, dishing a career-high 20 assists and pulling down 11 rebounds. It was the NBA's first triple-double with at least 25 points, 20 assists and 10 boards since Magic Johnson did it in 1988. It was the second straight triple-double for Westbrook, and the Thunder are 11-0 this season when he records one. OKC is 26-4 in the 30 games Westbrook has recorded a triple-double in his career.
As usual Westbrook deflected praise coming his way for the individual accomplishment.
“It’s more important just to see all my teammates happy and see all my teammates enjoy the game and enjoy this win," he said. "That's the most important part for me."
Westbrook's heroics overshadowed another outstanding night from Kevin Durant, who nearly had a triple-double of his own with 30 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists. He has scored 30 or more in four straight and has racked up seven consecutive games of at least 25 points, 10 boards and five assists, the longest such streak in the NBA over the last 30 seasons.
Mostly thanks to the efforts of those two the Thunder are averaging 110.1 points per game (2nd in the NBA). The Timberwolves are giving up 112.6 points over their last 16 contests.
OKC is 3-0 against Minnesota this season but two of the three games were close with OKC winning 126-123 in Minneapolis on January 27th and 101-96 in Minneapolis on January 12th. In between the Thunder rolled 113-96 on January 15th at The Peake.
If the Thunder focus in on the business at hand and aren’t caught looking ahead to Saturday’s Spurs showdown Billy Donovan should be able to rest Westbrook, Durant and the other starters for most if not all of the fourth quarter.
With that Spurs game coming less than 24 hours after tonight’s final horn that would certainly be the best case scenario but we all know how often that’s happened this season…right, not nearly often enough.
Tonight’s game tips off at 7:10 and can be seen on Fox Sports Oklahoma. You can follow me on Twitter @RandyRenner for updates from shootaround and pregame warmups. You can also find live updates on our Twitter feed page and after the game we’ll post a full video wrapup with interviews from the Thunder lockereroom.