Preview: Thunder at Wolves
Given a reprieve when Russell Westbrook had a technical foul rescinded, the Oklahoma City Thunder now appear to have a decent chance to lock down a postseason spot on the final day of the regular season.
That doesn’t mean Westbrook is willing to root for San Antonio to help make it happen.
The Thunder need two things to go in their favor Wednesday night to qualify for the Western Conference playoffs — a road win over the NBA-worst Minnesota Timberwolves and a New Orleans home loss to the red-hot Spurs.
Oklahoma City (44-37) seemed to be on its way out of the playoffs for the first time since 2008-09 when Westbrook picked up his 16th technical foul of the season in Sunday’s 116-104 loss at Indiana.
The automatic one-game suspension that usually accompanies that number would have kept Westbrook, who had a career-high 54 points Sunday, out of Monday’s game against Portland. The Thunder would have had a difficult time avoiding elimination with a loss to the Northwest Division champions without their MVP candidate, but the league decided to rescind the technical and allowed him to play.
With a chance to keep his team’s playoff hopes alive, Westbrook finished with 36 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists in a 101-90 home victory.
"We put ourselves in this position," said Westbrook, who at 28.0 per game has a slight edge over Houston’s James Harden (27.5) in the scoring race. "But at the same time, we’ve just got to go out and take care of our business and see what happens."
Enes Kanter added 27 points and 13 boards for Oklahoma City, which now needs to deal the injury-ravaged Timberwolves a 12th straight defeat and have the Spurs extend their league-best winning streak to 12 by beating New Orleans. Any other scenario gives the Pelicans the No. 8 seed and sends Oklahoma City home.
"I ain’t got to root for nobody," Westbrook said when asked about wanting San Antonio to win. "I ain’t no Spurs fan."
Backcourt mate Dion Waiters, who had 13 points against the Blazers, doesn’t agree with Westbrook’s sentiment.
"I’m going to be a fan of the Spurs," he said. "I’ve never been to the playoffs. I’m hoping that they go in there and they play and they get a win, and we go and handle our business."
The Thunder have taken care of business in their prior matchups with Minnesota, winning six in a row and 20 of 23. They’ve won the three games this season by an average of 13.6 points.
Westbrook has scored 28.8 per game while hitting 20 of 41 from 3-point range in his last 10 against them. He recorded one of his league-high 11 triple-doubles with 29 points, 12 assists and 10 boards in a 113-99 home win March 13 in the teams’ last meeting.
Kanter contributed 23 points and 15 rebounds that night in his first game against Minnesota since being acquired from Utah in February. He’s helped make up for the loss of Serge Ibaka by averaging 21.3 points and 11.3 boards in his last seven.
Minnesota (16-65), one game up on New York for the NBA’s worst record, has allowed 108.5 points per game with a minus-8.7 rebounding margin during its longest losing streak since a 15-game slide Dec. 12-Jan. 10.
Andrew Wiggins has been a bright spot during this skid, averaging 23.5 points to likely wrap up Rookie of the Year honors. Fellow first-year player Zach LaVine has scored 20.3 per game in his last 12 after finishing with 24 in Monday’s 100-88 home loss to New Orleans.