Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder
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.
It is Nikola Pekovic’s job – it’s his vocation – to wipe smiles like Joakim Noah’s from opposing centers’ faces.
Following a disappointing loss in Portland on Saturday evening, the Wolves (21-22) continue their four-game road trip tonight in Chicago (22-21). Tip is at 7:00 P.M. CST. The game can be seen on NBATV and heard on WCCO 830.
Derrick Rose won’t be walking through that door. (Eds. Note: He might limp to that bench, I’m not sure. Key thing is, he isn’t playing tonight or for a long time.) Neither will Luol Deng, or even Kirk Hinrich.
But beating the Bulls tonight will require the Wolves to play top-level basketball. The Wolves haven’t beaten the Bulls in a very long time. Last season, Chicago swept the season series against the Wolves for the fourth straight year. They’ve now won seven straight against Minnesota.
And despite being decimated by injuries, the Bulls are perhaps the NBA’s hottest team that no one really cares about.
The Bulls are tied for the League lead in January wins so far, going 10-3 in 2014. They’re 8-3 since trading Luol Deng earlier this month in what appeared a clear towel-throwing move.
But the Bulls keep winning. Because Tom Thibodeau.
Remember when I said Derrick Rose, Lu Deng, and Kirk Hinrich won’t be walking through that door? That doesn’t matter. Thibs keeps the engine running on overdrive no matter what lineup he can put on the floor.
A few things stand out for tonight’s game.
Bo Ryan’s face while watching tonight’s beat-em-up halfcourt struggle in Chicago.
Without Derrick Rose, the Chicago Bulls are the NBA’s Wisconsin Badgers. There are no elite athletes or SportsCenter top plays. Just execution and defense. They set big screens. They use most of the shot clock. They talk on defense. They rotate on defense. They push people around in the lane. At United Center, they push people around without fear of hearing a whistle blown. The pictures are not pretty, but the final score is in Chicago’s favor.
All of those qualities were on display in Chicago tonight as the Wolves fell to the Bulls 87-80 in a game that felt neck-and-neck until Marco Belinelli (of all people) caught fire in the early part of the 4th Quarter. The Italian shooter made three treys in the first 2:05 of the fourth, extending a 4-point lead to 9. A 9-point deficit to the Bulls in Chicago might as well be 30. Everything felt like a struggle from that point forward–and that’s just me watching on the couch. I can’t even imagine how Dante Cunningham and Derrick Williams felt when Taj Gibson was swatting their shots into the third row. Gibson is truly an incredible defensive player. So is Joakim Noah, who also passes at an elite level and even showed off some fancy footwork on the block. The game-clinching play was when Noah did an Al Jefferson-like array of pivots that eventually left Nikola Pekovic in his dust as he laid in an easy two.
Joakim Noah leads the Bulls tonight against the Wolves
The Wolves play the Bulls tonight. The Bulls aren’t the same without Derrick Rose.
They struggle to create their own shots.
But they’re still 3-2.
The Wolves are in a similar situation without Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio – their core.
They’re 4-1, after some inspired play last night and in other games.