Trying to avoid their first three-game losing streak of the season, the Oklahoma City Thunder must solve their fourth-quarter woes.
The Thunder, who have struggled in the final minutes of each of their past two games, will look to turn things around Saturday night when they visit the high-scoring Minnesota Timberwolves.
In home losses to Portland on Tuesday and Brooklyn on Thursday, the Thunder blew leads down the stretch that cost them victories. The team is shooting 32.4 percent in the two games during the fourth quarter, compared to 52.8 percent by opponents, and Oklahoma City was outscored 56-32 during that stretch.
The Thunder (25-7), which held leads as large as 16 in both games, lost the two contests by a combined six points.
"We have to do a better job definitely of protecting leads," coach Scott Brooks said following the 95-93 loss to the Nets. "That's something that we have to do a better job of, especially on our home floor."
Even the league's leading scorer has struggled. Kevin Durant has combined for five points on 2-of-8 shooting in the last two fourth quarters.
Durant is averaging 32.0 points - 3.4 better than his season average - in the four games Russell Westbrook has been sidelined since undergoing knee surgery. However, Jeremy Lamb (12.8 ppg) is the only other player averaging more than 12 for the Thunder, who haven't lost three consecutive games since Feb. 12-20, 2013.
"We just have to be better," Durant said. "We have to keep going."
The good news for Oklahoma City is that it's won seven consecutive road games - the franchise's longest road streak since the Seattle SuperSonics reeled off eight in a row from Jan. 24-Feb. 27, 2002. However, the Thunder have lost their last three trips to Minnesota.
Durant was limited to a season-low 13 points and shot 4 of 11 in a 100-81 loss at the Target Center on Nov. 1.
In a rematch a month later in Oklahoma City, he had 32 points and a career-best 12 assists in a 113-103 win.
The Timberwolves (16-16) are coming off one of their best offensive games of the season, an impressive feat given they rank second in the NBA in scoring at 106.7 points per game. On Wednesday against New Orleans, Minnesota shot a season-best 55.7 percent and tied a season high in points in a 124-112 victory. Nikola Pekovic's 22 points led the way for the Timberwolves, who had six other players reach double figures.
"We did a good job," guard J.J. Barea, who had 17 points off the bench, said to the team's website. "We did a good job moving the ball. I think we need that."
Minnesota has won four of five at home, averaging 117.5 points in those wins. It has won three of four overall.
One of the reasons for the improved play has been Pekovic, who is averaging 23.3 points and 10.6 rebounds in seven games since Dec. 18.
''You've got to use your strengths, what your good at,'' he said. ''That's what I'm doing. That's what I'm trying to use against athletic guys. I'm trying to use my strength."
Pekovic had 22 points and 10 rebounds in the last meeting with the Thunder, while Kevin Love shot 4 of 14 for 16 points - his second-lowest total of the season.
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