Timberwolves-Thunder Preview

Despite facing two of the league’s top defenses, the Oklahoma

City Thunder have won both games they’ve played since Kevin

Durant’s injury. Their offense has obviously taken a bit of hit

without the NBA’s reigning scoring champion, but should have better

luck against a Minnesota Timberwolves team that has the league’s

worst defense.

The Thunder, who might again be without Durant, look to extend

their season-high winning streak to five games and continue their

dominance over the visiting Timberwolves on Monday night.

Durant, who led the NBA with 30.1 points per game last season

and is averaging 28.0 this fall, has sat out the last two games

with a sprained left ankle and is listed as day-to-day. Thunder

coach Scott Brooks is being extra cautious with his young star, and

doesn’t want to rush him back too quickly.

So far, Durant’s absence hasn’t been a big problem for Oklahoma

City (9-4), as James Harden and Russell Westbrook have taken turns

stepping up offensively.

Westbrook had 31 points in Friday’s 89-84 victory at Boston, and

Harden finished with a season-best 23 points in Saturday’s 82-81

win at Milwaukee. Westbrook, who is averaging 23.5 points, scored

18 against the Bucks and sealed the win by making two free throws

with 7.3 seconds left for the Thunder, who also played their fourth

straight game without Jeff Green (sprained left ankle).

“It shows we have a lot of heart,” said Harden, who has been

Durant’s replacement in the starting lineup. “Even though Kevin and

Jeff are out, it had to bring our teammates that much closer

together, really lock in on our defensive end because it’s going to

be tough. We put up two good victories.”

Those victories were even more impressive considering they came

against two of the NBA’s best defenses. The Thunder, off to their

best start since the 2004-05 Seattle SuperSonics opened 13-2,

averaged 85.5 points on 39.9 percent shooting against the Celtics

and Bucks after averaging 110.8 points on 49.9 percent shooting

while winning four of their previous five.

Oklahoma City could get back to putting up big offensive numbers

against the Timberwolves (4-10), who are allowing a league-worst

109.9 points. Minnesota has yielded at least 111 points in each of

its last four games and is coming off a 112-95 home loss to the Los

Angeles Lakers.

The Thunder have also won five in a row over the Timberwolves,

their longest active winning streak over any opponent. Their

four-game sweep of Minnesota last season was the franchise’s first

in the series since 1996-97.

The Timberwolves arrive in Oklahoma City losers of three of four

overall, and they have just one win in eight games away from the

Target Center.

Kevin Love is hoping to put a forgettable performance against

the Lakers behind him, as he missed all seven field-goal attempts

to go scoreless with seven rebounds – barely half of his

league-leading average of 13.8.

“That was probably the most poor game of my career,” said Love,

who averaged 24.3 points and 17.8 boards in his previous four

contests. Love and Westbrook starred as teammates at UCLA.

Michael Beasley had another solid performance, finishing with 25

points and 10 rebounds. Beasley has scored at least 25 points in

six straight games, the first time a Minnesota player has done that

since Kevin Garnett from March 21-30, 2000.

Beasley had 28 points in his last game against the Thunder, a

98-80 loss for Miami on Jan. 16, after scoring eight or fewer in

each of his first three against them.