Preview: Minnesota Timberwolves (16-15) @ Oklahoma City Thunder (26-8)

Since their defeat at Target Center December 20th ended their 12 game winning streak, the Thunder have gone 5-4, most recently losing to those cellar dwellers, the Washington Wizards, on Monday.

Since a loss that embarrassing only happens — league-wide — once or twice an entire season, you can assume the Thunder will come out with intensity, looking to right the ship.

Thunder probable starting lineup:

PG Russell Westbrook

SG Thabo Sefolosha

SF Kevin Durant

PF Serge Ibaka

C Kenrick Perkins

Kevin Martin, Westbrook and Durant shot a combined 16-48 (33%) against Washington. Perkins scored as many points as I did (he grabbed 11 rebounds more, to be fair). They got a good night out of Ibaka (12-17, 26 points and 11 rebounds) and shot 30 free throws to almost abate the damage, but I’ll say it again — you can bet tonight will be a more solid effort.

Martin is shooting 33% from the field and 30% from 3 over his last 5 games. For a guy who’s supposed to be James Harden’s replacement, Martin’s .8 assists over the last 5 is a bit of a playmaking drop off. Martin missed the December 20th Wolves win.

Ibaka is 3-5 from 3 over the last 5 and 7-22 on the season. The league’s most prolific shot-blocker last season, Ibaka’s added range to his jumper helps his part of the Thunder’s offense grow to offset Harden’s departure.

Wolves probable starting lineup:

PG Luke Ridnour

SG Alexey Shved

SF Andrei Kirilenko

PF Dante Cunningham

C Nikola Pekovic

As much as I want to make believe the win over the Hawks was about Ricky Rubio’s return to form — and the team — there are multiple factors that would counter that it was in fact a team win. Pek crushed. AK was brilliant. Derrick Williams came out firing. Rubio and Shved moved the ball. Cunningham made his clutch plays. And they all took care of the ball.

If Barea and Ridnour could combine to shoot better than the 6-21 (28%) they shot against Atlanta, the Wolves could go a long way to negating Westbrook’s onslaught.

Terry Porter may or may not be coaching again for Rick Adelman.

Tonight, Rubio is expected to venture further down his road to recovery, playing in his first back-to-back games this year. Following up a good performance with another would be another huge step.

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