Game 49 Preview: Oklahoma City Thunder vs Minnesota Timberwolves

Oklahoma City Thunder (35-12) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (23-25)

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Last game: Minnesota: L, 116-100 vs San Antonio, Oklahoma City: W, 114-91 vs Los Angeles Clippers

Barea will be one of the highest scorers available for a banged up Timberwolves team.

Barea will be one of the highest scorers available for a banged up Timberwolves team.

The end of the road trip is in sight, and predictably, the Wolves are beginning to drag. Against the Spurs on Wednesday, Minnesota lost what would have been a difficult game even at full strength, as the Spurs were 17-4 at home. But the problem compounded when Nikola Pekovic was unable to play. Though the Spurs lost Tony Parker to a mild hamstring strain early in the 3rd quarter, Minnesota was unable to capitalize and fell further out of the playoff race.

The Thunder annihilated the free-falling Clippers on Wednesday. Kevin Durant scored 32 points on 11-18 shooting from the field, while the Thunder held the Clippers to just 36% shooting from the field.

The Key Questions

#1. Can the Wolves end their road trip strong?

Understandably, the Wolves are sick of playing away from the Target Center, and the effects of an extended road trip are starting to become evident. Though the playoff damage may have already been done, a win tonight, however unlikely, would go a long way toward boosting Minnesota’s slumping confidence going forward.

#2. Will Pekovic be available?

Nope. So Minnesota’s top scorers will be Kevin Love (good), Michael Bea…oh wait, he’s out too. Hmm. Luke Ridnour and JJ Barea are the next two highest scorers available? God save us.

Oh, by the way, about Beasley’s injury: he offered a gem after the loss on Wednesday.

From the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

You could tell on defense that I was babying it. I had become a bit of a liability on defense, so I took myself out.

Ohhhh, that explains a lot. I was thinking to myself watching that game….”Why is Beasley such a liability on defense? This is so unlike him.” Now it all becomes clear. Thanks Beas!

#3. How do you solve a problem like Durant?

Hell if I know. Maybe Pek knows a guy who could…take care of him.

The Key Matchups

Kevin Love will likely start at center again, meaning Kendrick Perkins will be forced to guard him. Perk is a very good post defender, so Love will need to drag him out of the lane and knock down some shots away from the basket.

Luke Ridnour has defended some tough players this season, but Russell Westbrook is just frightening. Westbrook is incredibly competitive and constantly plays with a chip on his shoulder. Plus his athleticism is staggering. Ridnour’s athleticism is staggeringly mediocre. This could get ugly.

(Note: I love Ridnour, just not in this match-up.)

The Outlook

Well, the Thunder appeared to be slipping until the Clippers showed up and allowed them to get back on track. Thanks guys. Just another reason to hate LA.

Seriously though, this game does not bode well for a tired, discouraged Minnesota team. I’d love to be proved wrong, but I’m finding it very difficult to project any kind of optimism for this one.

Game starts at 7 PM on Fox Sports North