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Thunder Too Strong For Shorthanded Wolves

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Minnesota faced quite the challenge Wednesday night in Oklahoma City.  

The banged-up Timberwolves were forced to play without three starters, including All-Star Kevin Love, against the Western Conference's top team.  

"Kevin Love is one of the best players in the league," Thunder coach Scott Brooks declared.  "He has such a unique combination of skills.  He has the finesse that he can step back and shoot a 3, but he also has the workmanlike, lunch-pail-type mentality where he gets rebounds and dives on the floor. He's a problem. He's definitely a problem."

Including that "problem," the Wolves were without 54.7 of its 106 points per game and 24.7 of its 46 rebounds per game.  That's more than 50 percent of both.  

In addition to Love, Minnesota had Nikola Pekovic and Corey Brewer sidelined.  Brewer is the Wolves' best perimeter defender and Pekovic consistently takes the Thunder apart.  Pekovic came in averaging 22.7 points and 10.3 rebounds against OKC this season.

Despite all that, the scrappy Wolves came to play.  Unfortunately for them, the Thunder had too many weapons. Kevin Durant led the way again, even with a modest night by his standards.  

KD scored 26 points, grabbed nine rebounds and dished out seven assists as the Thunder held on for a 106-97 victory.

RELATED STORY: Durant Named Western Conference Player Of The Month

Things were slow to get started for OKC.  Ricky Rubio left Thunder defenders with some explainin' to do in the first half, scoring 11 points without committing a turnover.  Dante Cunningham also couldn't miss, dropping 10 points on 5-6 shooting as the Wolves stood strong throughout the half.  

OKC led 26-25 after one and 56-54 at the break.  The Thunder looked to be facing a halftime deficit, but Kevin Durant isolated onto Cunningham and buried a 3-ball in his face as the buzzer rang.  

It was more of the same in the third quarter as Oklahoma City couldn't quite put Minnesota away.  Durant kept on scoring, reaching the 24-point mark by the end of the period, but Rubio and Cunningham continued their two-man attack.  Rubio scored seven and Cunningham added six as the Wolves kept clawing.  For the third straight quarter, OKC outscored Minny by one point and held an 80-77 lead heading into the game's final stanza.

"We knew going into the game I knew when they were gonna have three starters out, they were gonna play scrappy basketball," Brooks said.  "I have a lot of respect for coach Adelman. His teams play hard. They compete, and they win every year."

Despite the mundane nature of the first 36 minutes, the third quarter ended on one of the wierder plays you'll ever see.  Derek Fisher launched a 3-ball from the deep corner and Wolves' rookie Gorgui Dieng momentarily lost his mind.  

Dieng, with arms outstretched, attempted to rebound the ball before it ever hit the rim. It almost looked like he was the recipient on an alley-oop. Dieng caught Fisher's shot as it was coming down toward the rim and pushed it through the net.  The officials were understandably confused, and afer a huddle, ruled a goaltend on Dieng and Fisher's 3-ball counted.  

"I've never seen that before," Kevin Durant said after the game. "That guy (Gorgui Dieng) is a rookie so I'm sure he's gonna learn from that one. That gave us a little boost and in the start of the fourth those guys came out and played extremely hard."

The Thunder used that momentum and finally opened things up early in the fourth. Fisher came off a curl and buried a jumper with 9:05 to play, putting OKC up 89-79 and offering a little breathing room for the first time all evening. 

Oklahoma City outscored Minnesota 23-17 in the fourth and cruised to yet another win. Reggie Jackson gave the Thunder a nice lift, scoring 20 points on 9-14 shooting.  Jackson also dished out nine assists to just one turnover. Fisher hit 3-5 from downtown and added 13 off the Thunder bench. Serge Ibaka added 14 points, seven boards and three blocks.

The Thunder outrebounded the outmanned Timberwolves 49-39. Kendrick Perkins led OKC with 12.

OKC is now 40-11 and is the first team in the NBA to reach the 40-win mark this season. The Thunder heads to Orlando on Friday night to face the Magic, then returns home to host the New York Knicks on Sunday.

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