Despite facing two of the league’s top defenses, the Oklahoma City Thunder have won both games they’ve played since Kevin Durant’s(notes) injury. Their offense has obviously taken a bit of hit without the NBA’s reigning scoring champion, but should have better luck against a Minnesota Timberwolves team that has the league’s worst defense.
The Thunder, who might again be without Durant, look to extend their season-high winning streak to five games and continue their dominance over the visiting Timberwolves on Monday night.
Durant, who led the NBA with 30.1 points per game last season and is averaging 28.0 this fall, has sat out the last two games with a sprained left ankle and is listed as day-to-day. Thunder coach Scott Brooks is being extra cautious with his young star, and doesn’t want to rush him back too quickly.
Westbrook had 31 points in Friday’s 89-84 victory at Boston, and Harden finished with a season-best 23 points in Saturday’s 82-81 win at Milwaukee. Westbrook, who is averaging 23.5 points, scored 18 against the Bucks and sealed the win by making two free throws with 7.3 seconds left for the Thunder, who also played their fourth straight game without Jeff Green(notes) (sprained left ankle).
“It shows we have a lot of heart,” said Harden, who has been Durant’s replacement in the starting lineup. “Even though Kevin and Jeff are out, it had to bring our teammates that much closer together, really lock in on our defensive end because it’s going to be tough. We put up two good victories.”
Those victories were even more impressive considering they came against two of the NBA’s best defenses. The Thunder, off to their best start since the 2004-05 Seattle SuperSonics opened 13-2, averaged 85.5 points on 39.9 percent shooting against the Celtics and Bucks after averaging 110.8 points on 49.9 percent shooting while winning four of their previous five.
Oklahoma City could get back to putting up big offensive numbers against the Timberwolves (4-10), who are allowing a league-worst 109.9 points. Minnesota has yielded at least 111 points in each of its last four games and is coming off a 112-95 home loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Thunder have also won five in a row over the Timberwolves, their longest active winning streak over any opponent. Their four-game sweep of Minnesota last season was the franchise’s first in the series since 1996-97.
The Timberwolves arrive in Oklahoma City losers of three of four overall, and they have just one win in eight games away from the Target Center.
Kevin Love(notes) is hoping to put a forgettable performance against the Lakers behind him, as he missed all seven field-goal attempts to go scoreless with seven rebounds - barely half of his league-leading average of 13.8.
“That was probably the most poor game of my career,” said Love, who averaged 24.3 points and 17.8 boards in his previous four contests. Love and Westbrook starred as teammates at UCLA.
Michael Beasley(notes) had another solid performance, finishing with 25 points and 10 rebounds. Beasley has scored at least 25 points in six straight games, the first time a Minnesota player has done that since Kevin Garnett(notes) from March 21-30, 2000.
Beasley had 28 points in his last game against the Thunder, a 98-80 loss for Miami on Jan. 16, after scoring eight or fewer in each of his first three against them.