OKLAHOMA CITY — Two teams that were among the headliners during the flurry of offseason activity find themselves heading in different directions one-quarter of the way into the NBA season.
The Oklahoma City Thunder (8-12) play host to the Minnesota Timberwolves (13-9) on Friday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena, with the Thunder chasing the Timberwolves and others in hopes of climbing back up the ladder in the Western Conference.
Despite an emotional win over the Golden State Warriors last week, Oklahoma City continues to search for continuity among its stars, Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. The Thunder are coming off a 121-108 loss at Orlando on Wednesday in which they squandered a second-half lead.
It was the Thunder’s seventh straight road loss and fifth defeat in the past six games overall.
“It starts with me, man,” Westbrook said after the loss. “It’s my responsibility to make sure we’re ready to play on both sides of the ball.
“It starts with me, man, and I take ownership of everything that’s going on, because I’ve been here. I know the standards we set here in Oklahoma City. I have to set examples. It starts with me, and we’re gonna turn this thing around.”
Westbrook, George and Anthony all are averaging more than 19 points, but Thunder coach Billy Donovan continues to be frustrated by his team’s lack of focus over the course of a full 48 minutes.
“The game of basketball is like the house in gambling,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “You may be able to gamble a little bit here or there and come out on top on a particular day, but over the long haul, those habits you have to establish — because the game always wins out in the end over a long period of time.
“Maybe on a given night, you don’t do the things you need to do and you may win, but you’re not gonna win over the long haul and win big like we’re trying to do.”
Minnesota beat the Thunder 115-113 at Oklahoma City in October. Andrew Wiggins banked in a buzzer-beating 3-pointer for the win, seconds after Anthony hit a 3-pointer to put the Thunder on top.
The Timberwolves are coming off a 120-102 victory over New Orleans on Wednesday. Wiggins had 28 points, eight rebounds and five assists. Six other Timberwolves scored at least 10 points.
“This is a great step moving forward,” Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “We played great as a team. When we’re out there playing hard, moving the ball, playing with confidence, it looks like some pretty good basketball.”
Minnesota is a conference-best 10-3 against the West. With Butler being added from Chicago in the offseason to join a young and talented roster with players such as Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, the Timberwolves are positioning themselves to make a push in the top-heavy West.
“In the NBA, there’s an excuse every night, whether it’s travel, injuries, back-to-backs,” Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau told the Star Tribune. “Or you can make good. When the ball goes up, you have to be ready to go.”