OKLAHOMA CITY – Just like the Timberwolves, the Oklahoma City Thunder is enduring its share of injuries this season, a fact that didn’t stop it from defeating the Wolves 92-84 Monday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
The Thunder pulled superstar Kevin Durant from the starting lineup not long before Monday’s opening tip, citing a “left great toe sprain” he suffered in Sunday’s loss at Cleveland.
For the commoner, that’s usually just known as your big toe, but when you’ve led the NBA in scoring four of the past five seasons and won a league MVP award, maybe all your toes are great.
The Wolves did their part just for sportsmanship, countering by playing without forward Robbie Hummel. He broke his shooting hand in Sunday’s loss at Atlanta and is expected to miss four to six weeks.
It’s a swap the Wolves gladly will take any night, but it’s also one that couldn’t prevent them from losing their fifth consecutive game and for the 27th time in their past 30 games. It also couldn’t prevent the Thunder from moving back over .500 — at 23-22. It started the season 5-13 when both Durant and Russell Westbrook missed most of the season’s first month injured.
“It doesn’t matter, how are you going to take advantage?” Wolves coach Flip Saunders asked afterward, in reference to Durant’s absence. “They got Westbrook, one of the [NBA’s]best five players. They’ve got eight guys who have been to the conference finals. They’re still a good team … we have to worry about ourselves. We’re not at a point with our young players where we can worry about what other teams are doing.”
Wolves rookie Andrew Wiggins’ defense helped render Westbrook nearly inconsequential through three quarters, holding him to 3-for-16 shooting and seven points before Westbrook scored 11 in the fourth. Still, the Thunder led by 16 points in the second quarter and never by fewer than three in the second half — after the score had been only 4-4 nearly five minutes into the game.
“I thought there was a peach basket out there for a second,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said.
Serge Ibaka’s 13-point, 19-rebound performance compensated some for Durant’s absence. Fourteen points each from reserves Anthony Morrow and Reggie Jackson helped, too.
Saunders started centers Gorgui Dieng and Nikola Pekovic beside each other with Thaddeus Young moved to small forward for the second consecutive night. It’s a move that draws a bigger perimeter defender away from Wiggins onto Young and on Monday, it kept Young active again and energized Wiggins at both ends of the court. Wiggins scored 23 points and got to the free-throw line 12 times, a number Saunders said should have been close to double that if only …
He also provided the kind of defense that limited Westbrook for much of the game.
“I think I did pretty good, he’s a hard player to guard,” Wiggins said. “He missed shots that he usually makes. I just tried to make it tough on him.”
The Thunder remains 2.5 games behind eighth-place Phoenix for the West’s final playoff spot, with New Orleans still between it and the Suns. Its chase just to reach the playoffs continues.
“It’s a challenge, and it has been from the start of the season, from training camp,” Brooks said. “That’s why every season is so unique. You can’t predict the next season. We’ve been good the last five years with our [playoff] seeds. This year, we’re out right now. So it’s definitely a different situation to be in…We still have some games to make up and we understand that. But if you get into the playoffs, everybody has the same record, 0-0. You just have one less game at home.”