Wolves mix and match and fall well short at Oklahoma City

  • Article by: JERRY ZGODA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 10, 2013 - 9:13 AM

A manpower shortage forced the Wolves to roll the dice with matchups -- a losing proposition against the rock-solid Thunder.

OKLAHOMA CITY - The last time the Timberwolves visited Oklahoma City, Kevin Love scored a career-high 51 points and J.J. Barea delivered his first career triple-double in a memorable double-overtime loss last March.

You could call Wednesday's 106-84 loss to the Thunder completely forgettable if acting head coach Terry Porter hadn't been forced to improvise so oddly.

While Love was off in New York seeing a hand specialist who told him he'll need surgery, and Barea went to Dallas to get treatment for his aching back, the Wolves played with only 10 guys against last season's NBA runners-up. To make matters worse, the Thunder still was smarting from a defeat on TNT at Target Center just before Christmas and Monday's loss at lousy Washington.

Porter, filling in for the absent Rick Adelman for a second consecutive night, wrote his lineups and rotations in pencil after he discovered mid-afternoon that Barea could not play, one night after wrapping his back in a heating pad and being limited during a home victory over Atlanta.

Early in the game, when they held the Thunder to 16 first-quarter points, Porter went with a big lineup that featured power forward Derrick Williams defending Kevin Martin at shooting guard for a Wolves team that started the night with about 2 1/2 healthy guards.

"We can't make excuses anymore. It has been like this all season," said Williams, who provided a 14-point, 11-rebound double-double in nearly 28 minutes off the bench. "We can't blame it on injuries. T.P. did a good job drawing out every play for all of us. D.C. [Dante Cunningham] was playing '3' [small forward], I was playing '2' [shooting guard] and A.K. [Andrei Kirilenko] was bringing the ball up a couple times. It's just tough when guys are out of positions."

The half-healthy guard was Ricky Rubio. He was limited to 22 minutes off the bench while playing his first complete set of back-to-back games since returning last month from March knee surgery.

"Finally, my first back-to-backs," he said. "Feeling good."

The Wolves stayed even through the first quarter and trailed 47-42 at halftime before the Thunder forced 11 of the Wolves' 19 turnovers in a second half as it turned a three-point lead into a 26-point bulge by late in the game.

The Thunder on Wednesday started the same lineup it has every game all season while the Wolves again had to cobble together rotations with chewing gum and baling wire because of injuries.

Before it was all over, Kevin Durant had another 26-point, eight-rebound game and Russell Westbrook approached a triple-double with a 23-point, eight-rebound, seven-assist night.

"They're a championship-caliber team; they know what they're doing," Wolves guard Luke Ridnour said. "The first half, we did a good job. The third quarter, they got out. The fourth quarter, they really blew it out. You learn from it and move on."

The Wolves will move on to New Orleans, where they play Friday the second game of a daunting four-game trip that also takes them to San Antonio and Dallas.

And the Wolves will have to improvise all over again, just like they did Wednesday with oddly sized lineups and seldom-used zone defenses, if Barea's back keeps him out.

"That's just the nature of this league sometimes," Porter said. "Injuries are part of it. You'd love to have your full team intact, especially in this building. But it's just the nature of the beast."

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