Scott Brooks and the Oklahoma City Thunder look to avoid humiliation at the hands of the Timberwolves.
Minnesota Timberwolves (5-16) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (14-8) at Target Center
Tonight, the Timberwolves welcome Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder to the chilling temperatures of Minnesota. Last time these two teams played - November 22nd in Oklahoma City - the Wolves were able to cruise to an easy moral victory with Jeff Green and Kevin Durant both returning from ankle injuries. Kevin Love had 24 points and 17 rebounds, Darko had 21 on 9-of-14 shooting and Luke Ridnour chipped in with 17 points, 7 assists and 5 rebounds off of the bench.
It's usually not smart to give the other team bulletin board material, but after the game, that's exactly what Kevin Durant did. To a Wolves' television reporter (yes, this one was shown on TV), Durant had the nerve to call Darko Milicic "one of the best centers in the league". Really, Kevin? One of? Darko is the best center in the NBA and to say anything less is insulting.
Unfortunately, Darko may sit out this game with a quadricep injury, but his teammates will be hungry to enact a little revenge on the Durantula. Let's break down the matchups:
Nikola Pekovic is taking Darko's place tonight, which is a bit like replacing a firing squad with a guillotine.
Nikola Pekovic vs. Nenad Krstic
Nenad Krstic might want to develop a cold or a case of food poisoning in the next couple of hours. If I were him, I wouldn't want to face Pekovic, especially given how Krstic reacts when he is in a fight. Granted, this is a basketball game, and Pekovic is still fairly raw when it comes to technical things like scoring and passing. But when it comes to purely physical basketball, this is not at all an even contest.
I caught up with Pekovic prior to the game to ask him about playing Krstic.
Nikola, how do you feel about tonight's game against Oklahoma City?
Pekovic: "I cannot be defeated. I defeated all man. Soon...I defeat real champion."
I heard that you spoke to Krstic prior to the game. What did you tell him?
Pekovic: "You will lose. I must break you."
Are you worried about the consequences of playing physical with a guy like Krstic?
Pekovic: "If he dies, he dies."
Winner: Nikola Pekovic
The best 'Kevin' in this game is the one wearing Timberwolves colors.
Kevin Love vs. Jeff Green
Every time a player puts up gaudy stats, there is someone waiting to make those numbers seem less special than they are. Wilt Chamberlain was playing with mostly short and unathletic guys. Oscar Robertson averaged a triple double due to the number of possessions he had that year. Steve Nash only won two MVPs because of Mike D'Antoni's Seven Seconds or Less offense. Kobe only dropped 81 because he's a ballhog. The examples are everywhere.
Now, they're trying it with Kevin Love. This season, Love is putting up the type of numbers that are usually only seen in NBA2K11. He has seven straight double-doubles, 16 on the year, and is averaging 25.0 points and 18.3 baords over that impressive stretch. So, of course, some people have started to say that he only gets these numbers because of the Knicks poor rotations, because he steals rebounds from other teammates, because he leaves his man to get those rebounds or because the NBA 'wants a white guy" to succeed.
Poppycock. Kevin Love gets rebounds because he has a solid frame for boxing out, because he has great hands and because he has terrific instincts. He's also developed a reliable perimeter game and his defense, while not amazing, is certainly better than the Troy Murphys and the Al Jeffersons of the world.
Instead of trying to rationalize it, just accept it. Kevin Love is the best power forward in the league and that's all there is to it.
Winner: Kevin Love
Beasley is going to outplay Durant so badly, Thunder fans will start to wish they had taken Greg Oden.
Michael Beasley vs. Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant really loves Oklahoma City. He showed that when he signed his large extension this offseason and he showed it when in numerous Twitter posts when he complimented the city over the summer. He's also showing it on the court by shooting only 36.4 percent from the floor (21.4 from 3 point range) when he is on the road, compared to 45.9 percent when he is playing in Oklahoma.
Tonight, Michael Beasley is going to give Durant a little dose of Northern Hospitality and bring those percentages down a little bit more. Beasley is an active defender who occasionally is so active that he double teams players without reason and gambles for steals that he has no chance of getting. It's this type of passion - undoubtedly learned from Corey Brewer - that has made Beasley a fan favorite and an early candidate for the MIP and MVP awards.
If there were an award for Least Improved Player, Durant's name would have to be in the running. With higher expectations comes higher responsibilities, and so far, Durant has not even been the best player on his team. As a result, no one seriously believes that the Thunder have a chance to dethrone the Lakers or to challenge the Timberwolves for the Northwest Division crown.
Winner: Michael Beasley
Wes is more than a firm handshake and a pretty smile - but don't take that smile for granted.
Two games ago against Cleveland, Wesley Johnson had a career-high 20 points on 8-of-9 shooting (3-of-4 from downtown) in the Wolves' thrashing of the Cavaliers. Some people on this site and other sites explained it away as being an aberration and a game that only happened because he was playing one of the worst teams in the league. People aren't expecting Wes to go off for 20 points every night or to have that kind of shooting stroke.
And that's exactly what Wes wants. He's the guy you never see coming. He'll flash those pearly whites, he'll shake your hand, he'll even look a little passive at times on the court. It's fine. That's what he wants to happen. Like a snake stalking its prey stealthly through tall grass, Wesley is lulling opponents to sleep...and then striking when they least expect it. That's what makes him so dangerous.
Guys like DeMarcus Cousins you can hear coming from a mile away. Guys like Blake Griffin start off hot early but do not pace themselves, not realizing that the NBA season is a marathon, not a sprint. Wesley Johnson is neither. He's the Barack Obama of the NBA. One day, Barack is just the young, promising Senator from Illinois. Next thing you know, he's sitting in the Oval Office.
Today, Wes is just an above average rookie. Next thing you know, he might be delivering his Hall of Fame induction speech. It could happen.
Winner: Wesley Johnson
A flash in the pan point guard from the PAC-10? Luke's been there and done that.
Luke Ridnour vs. Russell Westbrook
Everybody has been talking about Russell Westbrook lately as a guy who should be considered one of the best point guards in the league. Some have put him in the same category as guys like Derrick Rose, Rajon Rondo and Chris Paul.
I don't understand all of the hype.
Just look at Monday night's game for an example. Westbrook had 6 turnovers in a 9-point loss to the Bulls and had the lowest +/- of any Oklahoma City starter. He shot 0% from three point range. Even with his teammate Kevin Durant scoring 29, Westbrook's poor play submarined the team. And who was Westbrook going up against that night? Derrick Rose. Rose had 11 points and 9 assists and was tied at +13 for the game's highest +/-.
Luke Ridnour, meanwhile, might not be in the "Best Point Guard in the League" discussion but he is Kurt Rambis' favorite point guard and he continues to run this team with the precision of a world-class heart surgeon. Russell Westbrook runs his team with the precision of a surgeon who is getting sued for medical malpractice because he accidentally amputated the wrong leg.
So the idea that Russell Westbrook is a top point guard? Just like Katy Perry's new CD, I'm not buying it.
Winner: Luke Ridnour
Forget Enron. These are the smartest guys in the room.
Tonight, the home crowd of the Timberwolves are going to shrug off the bitter cold of the Twin Cities and help to bring the heat down upon the heads of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Our last win at home was historic. This one will be equally as legendary.