MINNEAPOLIS -- Russell Westbrook was amazing yet again, finishing with 37 points, eight rebounds and seven assists in the Thunder's 138-113 victory over the Wolves on Wednesday night.
OKC took care of business, but needed a loss from the Pelicans against the Spurs to get into the playoffs. That didn't happen as the Pelicans won 108-103 behind Anthony Davis' 31 points and 13 rebounds.
Rather than rehashing the details of the Wolves 66th loss of the season, featuring plenty of players that likely won't be around Target Center next October, I transcribed a majority of the postgame press conference below for your reading pleasure.
Has Westbrook been the most dynamic guy?
He puts so much pressure on you, how he comes at you. Until you get out there and experience it you don't realize the energy he really exerts. The way he plays, he's a hard guy to referee. He puts so much pressure on the referee because he's going so hard to the basket. Sometimes he's out of control, sometimes he's not, but he's a heck of player that puts a ton of pressure on you.
Saunders on Oklahoma City being eliminated from the playoffs with New Orleans' win over San Antonio:
Unfortunately for them, New Orleans had a heck of a game and they came up on top. For Oklahoma City, it was a tough year for them too. They started off, they had so many injuries early and they tried to come back but it was like they were playing uphill most of the time and then they thought they had a break here about two weeks ago when they had a little bit of a lead but New Orleans kept on pumping away and won some big games and OKC probably let a couple slip away and that's what happens.
It's amazing in this league, where you look and it comes down to one game. Eighty two games and it comes down to one game. And that's why there's a learning experience for young players to understand you never know when that one game is going to be. You can't take games off. You want to be as consistent as you can. When you look at a team like San Antonio that has been the best team in the league the last month. They win 11 straight, lose a game and then all of a sudden are the fifth or sixth seed and have to open up on the road against a good team. Whether it's the Clippers or Houston it's going to be a tough series. That's just the way the league is.
How do you balance finishing with the leagues worst record vs. having the most lottery chances?
"When those guys got hurt at the beginning of the year, we talked at that time that the vision of this organization changed. It was kind of a forced change, not something that we wanted but one thing you have to do is understand and realize things. I had lunch with Red Auerbach one time, and Red said about players 'when you see a player that can't play, you're going to know before anyone else and you better get rid of him before everyone else finds out what you know.' And so, along those lines, when you see your team and you know that based on the injuries your team is not going to make it to where you want to get, it's important to change course and not stay running in the mud. We made the change and it was a painful change at times from a fan's standpoint, from the loss standpoint, from the standpoint of what we ultimately want to try to do and the team we want to put together. It was something we had to do.
When did you sense the disappointment in the fan base that they didn't get to see Garnett as much as they hoped for?
KG came here with the idea that he wanted to play and we knew it was going to be limited. Unfortunately before the all-star break, when he hit his knee he came in and his knee was sore. You have to realize, anybody that's played 20 years in the league, if you give them an MRI, you have to know what that things are going to look like. I mean, there's stuff all over the place. It wasn't anything from a serious standpoint, but it was serious enough that he didn't have any strength in the leg. We could never get to the point where his leg was strong enough. I'm sure the fans were disappointed, but like I said it's also the ultimate vision of what you're trying to accomplish both as a team and individual players. Garnett not playing is a sign he wants to play. If he didn't want to play he would have played out this stretch. He would have played 10-15 minutes a game knowing this is it and I'll give you what I've got. If it's not good its not going to matter because I'm not going to come back.
How significant is it that now the worst you draft is fourth?
Very significant. It's interesting because people always talk about the lottery. It's not from the perspective of you getting the No. 1 pick, but it shows where your basement is. It's important to know from a perspective of where you're at that there might only be so far you can go down. That's more of what being No. 1 in ping pong balls is. Usually what happens, at the worst, you drop a couple of spots. There are good players in this draft. At our spot we'll bring an impact player into the fold and we'll add to our nucleus of good young players.
How did you feel about Zach's progress down the stretch?
He made plays he couldn't make before. He's got to still continue to keep his aggressiveness. He's got the ability, I'm not comparing him to Westbrook, but similar to Westbrook, he can get his shot off whenever he wants because he can just jump over people and do that. Wiggins is going to have the same ability. It's tough to find guys like that in this league that can be able to do that a lot. I thought he made a lot of progress. The biggest progress he made is that he understands now when he makes a mistake. Before you had to explain to him and he still didn't quite get it but now him and Wiggins, when they make mistakes and I yell out their name, they already know what they did wrong.
As President of Basketball Operations, how do you have to approach Pekovic and Rubio next year?
The first thing you want to approach is we have to get them healthy how we can. I have no doubt that we will do whatever we can. Ricky is a much more minor situation than Pekovic, but I know that our hopes with Pek, and we're optimistic from his surgery, is that he's going to give us 20-25 minutes. If he can do that he's going to be a very valuable player for us. We'll work a lot in this offseason with him, with our people, we'll look everywhere we can to make sure we're doing the right thing.
If he [Pekovic] has another season next year like he has this year what are your options?
I don't want to get into that, but if he has another season [like that] it's probably going to be more his option than anyone's. As he said before, no one wants to continue to keep on playing in a situation where you're hurting yourself and you might not be able to walk in 10 to 15 years ... From the latest surgery, from the indication that we've had from those people, they're extremely optimistic that he's going to be able to function and be able to play for us next year and be able to play minutes.
What did AB show you tonight?
The good part was he came back and played. He could have very easily shut it down. He played hard tonight. He still thinks he's a 3-point shooter which he hasn't really accomplished yet. I guess he must have heard me talking to you guys to work on 3-point shooting, he thought he'd get a head start tonight. But this is big summer from him. He's going to get a lot of work. He's getting a lot of games. Basically from July 7th probably until the middle of September he's going to be playing competitive basketball with practices, preparation, and games. That's going to really help him. This summers going to determine really where he's at. This is huge summer for him to kind of make or break.
Where can this team improve most this summer?
Well, strength is the biggest thing. We saw even tonight, we got muscled around. When you're in defensive rotations your guards are going to get matched-up down on big players and you have to be able to fight with those guys down there. Strength within our team is going to be huge. Defensively we got to get a lot better, but that will come with strength. That comes with getting all your players together and having a key player like a Garnett, hopefully having him on the floor to help out defensively for guys to understand rotations. Basically I look at defense and strength as two major factors we can definitely have improvement.