A look at the other 14 Western Conference teams to see who is, and isn’t, a major threat to the Thunder in the team’s quest to try and reach the NBA Finals. And yes, this is a rip-off of Mark Medina’s series for the LA Times. I am shameless. (Important note: This is of course before free agency so a lot of this could change.)
Oklahoma City’s record versus the Timberwolves in 2010-11: 4-0
Average score: 114.3-107.5
Kevin Durant’s average and shooting percentage: 32.0 ppg, 45.9 percent
Games against them in 2011-12: Four
How they match up: The Thunder only played the Wolves once after the Kendrick Perkins trade and that was late in the season with OKC winning 111-103. The Wolves are really athletic with Anthony Randolph, Michael Beasley, Wes Johnson and now Derrick Williams on the wings. Then there’s Kevin Love down low who had one 30-20 game and another 20-20 against the Thunder (pre-Perk, though).
The Wolves should be a little better with Williams and of course Ricky Rubio, but the Thunder still hold a solid matchup edge because 1) Minnesota doesn’t have anyone to guard KD and 2) Minnesota doesn’t have anyone to guard Russell Westbrook. The Wolves have scored well on the Thunder in the past and on nights where they get hot, they’re pretty tough. But that’s a team that rarely defends which is why OKC was able to score enough to go 4-0 against them last year.
Why they’re a problem: They aren’t. I mean, I could see Minnesota beating the Thunder once, or even twice, next year, but this isn’t a team that’s going to stand in the way of the NBA Finals or anything.
Where the Wolves do scare me is that they’re a classic team that can sneak up on you and move you from the second seed to the fourth because of a couple bad January losses to them. The Thunder get the Wolves twice in December, once in February and once at the end of April. And that April game is the second of a back-to-back. I’m already having visions of that being a game the Thunder wishes they had back.
Why they’re not: The Wolves simply aren’t ready. They might not ever be either, but they certainly aren’t now. It’s hard to really figure if they’re going to be improved, especially since we’ve been saying that each of the past three seasons and if anything, they’ve regressed (just 17-65 last year). Like I said, Minnesota can get hot and pile up some runs and quick points but until they start consistently defending, Kevin Love’s 20-20 games aren’t going to be enough to stop the Thunder in the Northwest.
Are they a roadblock? Not at all. The Wolves will continue to be a relief game on the Thunder’s schedule. Again, there’s a chance Minnesota could beat OKC once or even twice, but this isn’t a team that’s going to compete for the Northwest title with the Thunder.