Oklahoma City (23-18) at Minnesota (9-33)

Fair Currently: Minneapolis, MN
Temp: 63° F
  • Game info: 8:00 pm EST Wed Jan 20, 2010
  • TV: FSOK, FSN
Preview | Box Score | Recap

A red-hot Kevin Durant(notes) has boosted the Oklahoma City Thunder ahead in the Western Conference standings, but the team’s improved defense has also played an important role.

Oklahoma City will try to top last season’s win total and move six games above .500 for the first time in five seasons by beating the host Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday night.

In averaging 24.0 points over his first 195 games, the 21-year-old Durant has established himself as one of the league’s top young players. He’s been even better over his past 15, averaging 32.5 points and scoring at least 25 in each.

The Thunder are 10-5 during that stretch and have moved into a tie for seventh in the conference. In turn, Durant has become the NBA’s third-leading scorer with 29.1 points per game.

He scored a team-leading 29 in Monday’s 94-91 victory over Southeast Division-leading Atlanta, and he also helped limit the Hawks to a 6-of-23 shooting performance in the fourth quarter.

“I think we got stops when we needed them, and we scored as well,” Durant said after the opener of a four-game trip. “It’s easy to play defense when you’ve got guys behind you who are going to help you out.”

The Thunder (23-18) allowed 103.1 points per game during their 23-59 finish in 2008-09, but they’re giving up an average of 96.0 this season.

“We’re a much better defensive team because everyone is getting involved,” coach Scott Brooks said. “Everybody is chipping in and competing on the defensive end.”

That effort has the Thunder on the verge of moving six games above .500 for the first time since the former Seattle SuperSonics finished 52-30 in 2004-05. Oklahoma City will try to win three in a row for the second time this season Wednesday.

The Thunder had a season-high five-game win streak from Dec. 23-31, with three of those victories on the road. They’ve won five of seven away from home with the two losses coming by a combined seven points.

Oklahoma City will face a Minnesota team that’s looking to win back-to-back games for the second time this season after rallying from a 20-point deficit Monday for a 108-103 overtime victory over visiting Philadelphia.

Jonny Flynn(notes) had a career-high 29 points to lead his team’s largest comeback of the season.

“You don’t want to be in situations like that, but if you are part of that situation you have to keep fighting,” Flynn said. “That’s one thing that (coach Kurt Rambis) always preaches to us is that you can come back from anything. We proved that today.”

Minnesota, attempting to extend its season-high home win streak to three, has struggled against winning teams, going 2-25. The Timberwolves have beaten one team that’s currently above .500 at the Target Center, where they are 6-15.

Minnesota has averaged 106.3 points in its last eight games, but it’s given up 113.9 per game in that span. The Timberwolves have allowed at least 100 in a season-high 11 consecutive contests.

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Wednesday, Jan 20