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.