Timberwolves 101, Thunder 93

If the Oklahoma City Thunder aren’t able to catch the San
Antonio Spurs in the race for the No. 1 seed in the Western
Conference, Kevin Durant and Co. may look back to a late March
night in Minnesota as the moment they let it slip away.

Barreling down on the Spurs with 11 victories in their previous
14 games, the rolling Thunder slammed into a 6-foot-11, Montenegrin
road block and a feisty Timberwolves team they never saw
coming.

Nikola Pekovic had 22 points and 15 rebounds and Ricky Rubio
added 17 points and seven assists to help the Timberwolves stun the
Thunder 101-93 on Friday night.

”We’ll be fine,” Durant said. ”You know, just a little bump
in the road.”

Chase Budinger scored 13 points and Andrei Kirilenko played
superb defense on Durant in the second half to help the Wolves deal
the Thunder an unexpected setback in their pursuit of the No. 1
seed in the Western Conference.

Durant had 36 points and seven rebounds, but was just 4 for 9 in
the final 22 minutes. Russell Westbrook added 18 points and nine
assists for the Thunder, who fell to 2 1/2 games behind the Spurs
in the West after San Antonio beat the Clippers.

”I’m pretty sure he’s tired right now,” Kirilenko said of
Durant.

The Thunder could regret this one, but they can also take solace
that they won’t see the Timberwolves – one of only five teams to
beat them twice this year – in the playoffs. The Wolves had just 25
wins on the season, tied for second fewest in the West, having
suffered through a litany of injuries. They were playing without
Olympian Kevin Love, who has missed most of the season with a
broken right hand.

So they used Pekovic’s broad shoulders and Dante Cunningham’s
grit to get a surprising victory, one that moved coach Rick Adelman
three away from 1,000 for his career.

”They’re a great team,” Pekovic said of the Thunder. ”I’m
sure they’ll be one of the teams that is going to go for the
title.”

With Minnesota leading 84-81 early in the fourth, Pekovic bulled
to the basket for two layups, and Cunningham, who was playing with
a bruised shooting hand, hit a jumper and converted a tough layup
in traffic for a 92-81 lead.

The Thunder got as close as five points down the stretch, but
Pekovic held them off with a putback that pushed the lead back to
96-87 with 1:34 to go. Westbrook was just 7 for 17 from the floor,
Kevin Martin was 1 for 9 and Durant was relatively quiet after a
9-for-10 start.

”We keep it the same,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said.
”We’re a very even-keel team, we always focus on just playing good
basketball whoever we play, and they play well against us. They’re
a good team.”

Oklahoma City has nine games remaining to make up for it.
Getting that No. 1 seed is very much a goal for these Thunder, who
want to play as many games as possible in front of their raucous
home fans in the playoffs. It was in Oklahoma City last year when
the series against the Spurs turned so dramatically. Down 2-0 to
San Antonio and in serious danger of being swept by the veteran
Spurs, the Thunder exploded for a 20-point win in Game 3 at home.
That gave them the confidence and momentum, and they reeled off
three more in a row to advance to the NBA Finals for the first time
since moving from Seattle.

Seven of Pekovic’s 15 boards came on the offensive end and the
Wolves committed just 11 turnovers to get the win.

”If we want to get to where we want to get to, we’ve got to get
up for every game,” Durant said. ”And I think we were up for
tonight, but we just ran into a team that played better.”

NOTES: Love’s doctors in New York conferred with Timberwolves
doctors on his hand. He was not given clearance to resume contact
work and will be evaluated again next week. There is still not
timetable for his return. … Give J.J. Barea points for ingenuity.
In the second quarter, the 5-foot-10 PG was met at the top of the
key by the 7-3 Hasheem Thabeet. With nowhere to go, Barea tried to
go between Thabeet’s legs. He didn’t quite make it, and Reggie
Jackson was called for a foul on the play. … Derek Fisher hit a
3-pointer in the first quarter to snap an 0-for-19 drought from the
field.