OKC ThunderDome

Beyond…Waaaay Beyond…

Game 14 Preview: Timberwolves at Thunder

Tipoff at 8:00PM EST

ESPN Preview.

Tonight the long-suffering Wolves come to OKC to try to rebound from their bad loss to the Lakers.   They too have been struggling from the defensive end, giving up more PPG than the Thunder have been.  Their two strengths right now come in the form of young players Michael Beasley and Kevin Love.  Beasley’s offensive skillset is finally being showcased, and Love is the author of one of the sickest statlines of the year (31 points, 31 rebounds in win against Knicks).

Meanwhile, the Thunder are coming off of two huge wins where they were missing Durant and Green.  Role players have emerged and the team is beginning to focus defensively.

The Thunder have won five in a row against the Wolves. Here are some keys for #6.

Keys to victory

  • Continue to focus on defensive end of the court.  There is causation, and there is correlation.  The reality is, the Thunder turned into defensive juggernauts when Durant was sidelined.  Was this because Durant is a defensive liability, or is it because the Thunder had to figure out how to compensate for his loss, so they invested more defensively?  Tonight will tell us a little bit more of that story.
  • Defensive rebounding. Broken record, I know.  But I will say it again; offensive rebounding success is the easiest way for poor teams to hang around.  In particular, they have to keep Love off the boards.  If that means going to Collison and Ibaka early, then so be it.  You have to take away what the other team does best.
  • Stay cool on the 3’s.  The Thunder are not a good 3-point shooting team.  They pulled way back on the attempts these last few games, and as a result their 3-point effectiveness changed from liability to asset.  Part of this is probably related to Durant not being out there and hoisting eight a game.  Ahem…
  • Don’t let Durant and Green press offensively.  If those two are cold coming out of the gate, don’t be afraid to take the pressure off them and give them early rest.  It will take a while for the rhythm of the game to come back where both of those guys are scoring within an offensive context.
  • Don’t forget about Harden.  He is their project for this early part of the season.  The team needs for him to feel like he’s a part of this thing.  I get an innate sense that investment in his confidence now will pay good dividends by the end of the season, but they have to stick with him and keep him engaged.  Also, defining a clear role would be nice.
  • Westbrook needs a better 4th quarter.  The Thunder have barely gotten by these last two games by going ice cold in the 4th.  Their offensive ball movement has disappeared, which has contributed to their dead-last ranking in team assists per game (17.1 per).
  • Play loose.  With Durant back, they no longer have to play cautious.  I would love to see them get out and play at a higher pace tonight and let their offensive talent shine.  They’ve earned the right to do it.

Minnesota is dead-last in points allowed, at 109 per game.  I love the way the Thunder are progressively improving each part of their team game so far, and tonight is another opportunity.  Let’s see some great passing (I’d even settle for good passing), balanced minutes, and hopefully, an easy win.

Prediction: Thunder by 11.

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