Mar 1, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) during the second half against the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center. The Nuggets won 105-103. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Preview: Oklahoma City Thunder (53-19) @ Minnesota Timberwolves (25-45)

The Oklahoma City Thunder have a game and a half that separates them from the #1 seeded San Antonio Spurs and a comfortable 4-game cushion over the 3rd seeded Los Angeles Clippers. The ocean that separates the Thunder from the Wolves isn’t likely to matter to Thunder starting point guard Russell Westbrook, who threw up 37 points on 22 shots and 9 assists with 5 turnovers while grabbing 7 rebounds and shooting a perfect 9 of 9 from the line and 2 of 2 from deep against the Wolves in Oklahoma City February 22nd. Russell seems to not like the Wolves very much. And although his matchup with Ricky Rubio reads more competitive that night than it was — Ricky had 13 points on 12 shots and 9 assists with a single turnover and 5 rebounds and steals — Minnesota was completely outclassed in that one, as Pek and D-Will combined to make 4 more shots than I did. (Get it? I didn’t actually play in that game. Ha!)

Thunder probable starting lineup:

PG Russell Westbrook

SG Thabo Sefolosha

SF Kevin Durant

PF Serge Ibaka

C Kendrick Perkins

Perk had 11 rebounds in 21 minutes against the Wizards and is in the midst of averaging 10 in just 25 minutes over his last 5. The unsung tough guy got away with many a punking last time out against the Wolves.

Ibaka’s highs and lows are many — 2 points and 6 rebounds in a loss to Memphis followed by 14 and 13 against Orlando and 16 and 3 and 7 and 7 against Portland and Washington in 3 straight wins. Serge is always a defensive presence, averaging 4 blocks over the last 5 (3 a game on the year).

Westbrook’s perceived as the achilles heel of Oklahoma. His shot selection, decision making, bravado — whatever you call it, he’s as unguardable an offensive option as their is throughout the NBA and any team without Durant would be well-served to let him run wild to the rim and take what he gives you. But any team that makes Durant a crunch-time playmaker instead of their #1 scorer will have plenty of questions to answer.

For all the hubbub, Durant is averaging a career-high 4.5 assists a game this season while his turnovers are actually down from last year’s career-high 3.8 (with 3.5 assists) to 3.5 (and this year’s 4.5).

Wolves probable starting lineup:

PG Ricky Rubio

SG Luke Ridnour

SF Andrei Kirilenko

PF Derrick Williams

C Nikola Pekovic

After D-Will and Pek messed the bed so badly in OKC last time, you’d really expect to see them give a better effort/performance at the Target Center this evening. Pek gave as he got against the Lakers and Dwight Howard, putting up 19 on 14 shots and grabbing 16 rebounds. While D-Will continues to be a here today, gone tomorrow performer.

Over the Wolves last 5 games, they are 2-3. In wins Williams has 4 and 6 point games. In losses, 12, 28, 15. While his 3s look good over that span, at 43%. He’s averaging an anemic 5 boards over the same span.

After Dante Cunningham brought the midrange accuracy in the loss to the Lakers (on his way to 18 points, 4 rebounds and 2 steals in 19 minutes) and Chase Budinger’s off-ball movement and defense (and 14 points and 9 rebounds) reaped more rewards than his vaunted long-range shooting (1-5 against the Lakers, 30% over his last 5), it’s puzzling to watch D-Will’s passive rebounding and Kirilenko’s overall struggles while the offense grows more passive and Ricky grows more frustrated watching another long, slow and steady sinking 3rd quarter. Lethargy will definitely be punished tonight against the Thunder.

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Tags: Gameday Minnesota Timberwolves Oklahoma City Thunder Pregame Preview

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