The Minnesota Timberwolves, when healthy, look like a team that can make the playoffs, as Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio put on another double double show in a 100-81 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, who are going to have these kind of games as long as Russell Westbrook is out of the picture and Kevin Durant is forced to do more things than just score without having to worry about anything else.
As last playoffs showed, the Thunder are quite the average team when Westbrook isn’t playing. Durant is an elite scorer, but not that great at making others better than they actually are. The Timberwolves trapped him on almost every opportunity they had, leading to an awful performance from Durant, scoring only 13 points on 4-of-11 from the field, turning the ball over 4 times in 27 minutes before leaving a game his team hand no chance of winning.
The Timberwolves know a thing or two about injuries, crippling the team over the last couple of years. However, when fully healthy and especially having Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio injury free, they should be seriously considered as contenders for a playoff spot (and maybe more?) in the Western conference.
Love is a double double machine, scoring 24 points and bringing down 12 rebounds on another impressive shooting night, hitting 3-of-5 from beyond the arc. Ricky Rubio clearly seems like a much more confident version of the point guard we saw during his first two seasons in the league, scoring 14 points, adding 10 assists and 5 steals to that. Rubio, like other point guards around the league, seems to be the indication of how intense and good the Timberwolves’ defense will be.
After a strong start last year when they had Andrei Kirilenko, there were those who thought the defense will suffer from his departure. However, both Pekovic and Love seem a lot more interested than before in getting the best out of physical battles inside the paint. Pekovic also finished with a double double, scoring 15 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. They limited the Thunder to only 20 points in the paint, forcing Durant, Ibaka and the rest to keep taking bad jumpers. The Thunder shot only 34.9% from the field, their only solace coming from Jeremy Lamb scoring 16 garbage time points off the bench.
It was somewhat of a rare, terrible performance from a team that’s going into their third season considering themselves as the best in the NBA, but possibly going backwards each year, this time with injury being the cause, and not bad coaching or simplistic basketball. They were down by 20 points at half time, their largest halftime deficit in the last three seasons. Durant had a -20, which is his worst +/- since the 2008-2009 season. It might be just a rare off night for the Thunder, but considering their most recent displays without Westbrook, we have a few more of these coming our way.
We can be very good. We can be very good. But I’ve learned not to look too far into the future. I just want to take it day by day. We know we can score. But when we play defense, we’re a different team, on a whole other and better level.