Things are not going well for the Oklahoma City Thunder of late, and a second-half meltdown in Orlando on Wednesday was the latest issue. The Thunder will try to solve some of their problems in front of their own fans when they open a three-game homestand by hosting the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday.
Oklahoma City owns one win in its last six games -- an impressive triumph over the defending champion Golden State Warriors -- and watched its offense grind to a halt while the Magic used a 26-3 run in the second half on Wednesday to turn a close game into a 121-108 win. “As a team, we have to know what is working for us and staying steady and staying with it,” Thunder forward Paul George told reporters. “We’re great when we’re locked into our system. That’s where we have to be. We have to find that level of play every possession for 48 minutes.” The Timberwolves can relate to that kind of inconsistency after trading wins and losses over the last six games, and they followed up a 92-89 loss at home to Washington on Tuesday with a 120-102 win the next night at New Orleans. “In the NBA, there’s an excuse every night,” Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau told reporters. “Whether it’s travel, injuries, back-to-backs. Or you can make good. When the ball goes up, you have to be ready to go.”
TV: 8 p.m. ET, NBATV, FS North (Minnesota), FS Oklahoma
ABOUT THE TIMBERWOLVES (13-9): Minnesota tends to ebb and flow based on the play of swingman Jimmy Butler, who went for 19 points on 8-of-12 shooting on Wednesday after going 5-of-17 from the floor in Tuesday’s setback. “We played great as a team,” Butler told reporters. “When we’re out there playing hard, moving that ball, playing with so much confidence, it looks like some pretty good basketball.” Butler is shooting 45.8 percent from the field in wins and 41 percent in losses, a trait he shares with center Karl-Anthony Towns (54.5 percent in wins, 50 percent in losses), who averaged 30 points and 15.5 rebounds in two wins over Oklahoma City in October.
ABOUT THE THUNDER (8-12): Reigning MVP Russell Westbrook is committed to building a strong bond on the court with stars George and Carmelo Anthony and finding a consistent rhythm that allows the team to be successful. “We have to lock in,” Westbrook told reporters. “That starts with me and I take ownership in everything that is going on because I’ve been here. I know the standards that we set here in Oklahoma City. I have to set an example. It starts with me and we’re going to turn this thing around.” Westbrook totaled 37 points and 11 rebounds in his fifth straight game with at least a double-double on Wednesday but committed seven turnovers and went for an x-ray after the game on a bruised left hand that came back negative.
1. George scored 22 points on 7-of-17 shooting Wednesday after managing two points on 1-of-12 from the floor in a loss at Dallas on Saturday.
2. Timberwolves C Gorgui Dieng scored 19 points on Wednesday -- two more than in his previous four games combined.
3. Minnesota took the first two meetings this season by a combined five points.
PREDICTION: Timberwolves 112, Thunder 109