Coming off a big win last night at home in Minneapolis, the Wolves are in Oklahoma City to take on Kevin Durant and the Thunder tonight. Tip is at 7 P.M. CST. It can be seen on FSOK or League Pass or heard on WCCO 830.
The Wolves, now 24-24 on the season, are 4-8 on the second night of back-to-backs. And tonight’s will be among the most difficult of them all. The Thunder (39-11), as we know, are one of the best teams in basketball – with or without superstar guard Russell Westbrook, who will again be out tonight for the Thunder. The Thunder lead the season series against the Wolves 2-1.
Some keys to tonight’s game are below the fold.
Durant – The Slim Reaper, Durantula, Iceberg Slim, or whatever his semi-official nickname ends up being – snatched victory from the jaws of defeat against the Wolves in a 111-104 win on January 4th, while going for a (then) season-high 48 points on 16-32 shooting against the Wolves.
Here’s an overview of the damage assessment from that game.
Is Durant unstoppable? Yes, for the most part.
But there are occasional exceptions to that rule.
The Wolves did, for example, hold Durant to his worst game of the season in the two teams’ first meeting back on November 1st – a 100-81 victory at home, thanks to a combination of stingy D by Corey Brewer and solid help defense from his teammates. Durant finished that contest with only 14 points on 4-11 shooting.
Durant ran wild the entire month of January, averaging 35.9 points per game to go with 6 boards and 6 assists, leading OKC to a 12-4 record in the absence of his sidekick Russell Westbrook. Obviously, the Wolves defense will have to key on Durant, try to force him to take tough shots, and hope that some shots he’d otherwise make bounce the wrong way.
The Wolves chances in most games – and especially in big games – hinge on Kevin Love’s performance.
While putting up another great performance (31 & 17) in last night’s win, Love took a lot of hits and spills last night. This is the choice clip, but there were plenty of others as well.
The truth is, Love has been looking tired, haggard, and borderline worn out over the last 10 days.
The additional responsibilities that default to Love with Big Comrade Nikola Pekovic out have been made stark: Love has averaged just a hair under 40 minutes per game in the four games Pek has been out, about three more than he had averaged in the four games prior to Pek’s injury.
The All-Star Break can’t come soon enough for Love – not that he’ll be getting very much rest then, either, as he’s slated to start the game.
But to have a solid chance at winning tonight’s game, the Wolves will again need Love to summon the energy to play 40+ quality minutes and shoulder the load offensively, and also on the glass.
Love will always get his numb#rs. Don’t expect him not to in tonight’s game. The real litmus test will be whether he’s running the floor, filling the lanes, and getting back on defense against OKC’s transition game.
There’s some other stuff going on, both with the Wolves and around the League.
- Mayo Clinic Partnership, New Practice Facility: Yesterday the Wolves announced that they will be moving into a new state-of-the-art practice facility across the street from the Target Center. The new practice facility will be part of a partnership between the Wolves, the Linx, and the Mayo Clinic. I have no idea whether practice facilities correlate with wins and losses, but hopefully the training and care available as part of the partnership with Mayo will help prevent some of the kinds of injuries that combined to make last season a wash. (Eds. Note: No, we’re not going to make a knuckle pushup joke here, at least not yet.)
- What is Alexey Shved’s Role? After playing
some ofhis best basketball of season, Alexey Shved has found himself with an inconsistent role in Rick Adelman’s rotations. Shved got a DNP-CD last night, for example, after playing throughout #winningtime against Atlanta while starter Kevin Martin sat the bench. Shved’s on-again, off-again, role is almost certainly correlated with the back-and-forth that has gone on with Adelman’s erratic use of Ricky Rubio and J.J. Barea in the backcourt. But for a guy who’s obviously not long on confidence, such an inconsistent role certainly can’t be helping Shved.
- Tracy McGrady Wants to Be Like Mike?: T-Mac, who retired from the NBA last year after a final run with the San Antonio Spurs, appears set to follow Michael Jordan as a hooper-turned-baseball player. McGrady will try his hand at pitching for the independent Sugar Land Skeeters, who play near downtown Houston and are managed by former Twins great Gary Gaetti. The Skeeters issued a statement saying, “We look forward to monitoring (McGrady’s) progress.” Tryouts are in late March, and the season begins in late April. As a longtime T-Mac fan, I’m wishing him all the best.
- Adam Silver Hands Out His First Fine: Silver got the first one off his chest quickly after taking the reins from longtime Commish David Stern, fining Chicago’s Joakim Noah $15,000 for berating referees in a tirade that included lots of loud F-bombs. (Eds. Note: NSFW, depending where you W.)
That’s all for now.
Since we won’t be seeing any of Russell Westbrook’s violent acrobatics tonight, here’s some classic Restbrook to pregame to.
Enjoy the tilt.