Thunder-Timberwolves Preview

The Associated PressMarch 28, 2013

The Oklahoma City Thunder are the highest-scoring team in the NBA, but it's defense that has keyed their latest winning streak.

Now they'll look to continue their domination of the Minnesota Timberwolves, who are in the midst of one of their best offensive stretches of the season.

The visiting Thunder go for their 15th win in 16 meetings with the Timberwolves on Friday night.

Oklahoma City (53-19) has closed to within 1 1/2 games of San Antonio for the Western Conference lead thanks in part to its play at the defensive end, as it's held four straight opponents to 90 or fewer points. The Thunder, scoring a league-high 106.2 per game, have only averaged 101.0 during a three-game winning streak.

Oklahoma City limited Washington to 32.1 percent shooting in a 103-80 home win Wednesday. The Thunder have given up 84.0 points - 12.8 below their average - and 38.0 percent shooting in the three consecutive victories.

The defensive effort has allowed Oklahoma City hold a 42-24 advantage on fast-break points in their past two wins.

"When you don't have to take the ball out of the net, you get an opportunity to use your athleticism and get out in transition,'' coach Scott Brooks said. "Our first three steps can get down to half-court pretty quick and then we put pressure on the defense. It's all about defending. It's all about rebounding and getting out on the break.''

Brooks' club, one of the league's best on the fast break at 16.9 points per game, has outscored the Timberwolves 70-35 in that category while winning two of three meetings this season. Minnesota ranks near the bottom of the NBA at 14.1 fast-break points allowed per game.

The last-place Timberwolves (25-45) gave up 70 second-half points in a 120-117 home loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday.

"Sometimes it's not fair because we give 100 percent and sometimes we can't control things,'' guard Ricky Rubio said. "But we have to improve things that we can control.''

They haven't been able to control Thunder stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook recently. Durant, the NBA leader at 28.2 points per game, has averaged 39.0 and 56.8 percent shooting in his last four trips to Minnesota, while Westbrook has scored 34.0 per contest in his last five overall in the series.

With the Wolves coming off a rough performance at the defensive end, this game could prove to be a high-scoring affair. Minnesota, averaging 95.3 points on the season, has scored 117 twice and 105 once in the past four contests.

Center Nikola Pekovic, who had 19 points and 16 boards Wednesday, posted three consecutive double-doubles versus Oklahoma City before finishing with five points and two boards in a 127-111 road loss Feb. 22.

Minnesota did have a strong defensive effort Dec. 20 when it held the Thunder to 40.2 percent shooting in a 99-93 victory. That snapped a 12-game losing streak and seven-game home skid in the series, but the Thunder have responded by winning the last two meetings by an average of 19.0 points.

Oklahoma City has scored 115.2 points per game in its last 11 against the Timberwolves.