(Photo by Torrey Purvey)
By Michael Kinney
OKLAHOMA CITY — Christmas is one of the most important days on the NBA calendar. In fact, an argument can be made that it is at the top of the list as the league showcases many of its top teams.
So the fact the Minnesota Timberwolves landed a spot on the Christmas slate a season after racking up a 29-53 record is a testament to the level the Timberwolves were expected to reach this season.
The Timberwolves visit MVP candidate Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder in the fourth of five Christmas Day games at Chesapeake Energy Arena
In the first 29 games this season, Minnesota has struggled to reach its projected potential. That includes a 109-105 loss to the Sacramento Kings on Friday. The defeat didn’t put first year coach Tom Thibodeau in the holiday spirit.
“It’s all about winning. I really want to look at the film. I didn’t think anyone played well,” Thibodeau said, via NBA.com. “Someone is going to score in a game, but did you make winning plays. Did you make winning plays defensively, did you make winning plays offensively.”
With a 9-20 record, the answer to the questions on most nights is no.
The Timberwolves do have young talent that has been playing well individually. Karl-Anthony Towns is averaging 22 points and 11.4 rebounds per game while Andrew Wiggins is averaging 21 points on 43 percent shooting from the field.
Despite that, Thibodeau is trying to teach his team to win consistently in the NBA.
“There’s stretches where we play well defensively. And you have to play well on both ends,” Thibodeau said. “It’s too hard to win in this league. Until we understand that, it’s going to be up and down. We got to correct that.”
The Timberwolves are facing a team with a proven closer. Oklahoma City’s Westbrook used to share closing duties with Kevin Durant, but this season he has been doing it on his own for the most part.
That was the case Friday when the Thunder (18-12) held on to beat the Boston Celtics 117-112 on the road behind 46 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists from Westbrook. It was his 14th triple double of the season and third straight game scoring more than 40 points.
“It’s important for me to know how to close games,” Westbrook said. “I watch film and figure out the best way to close games for my team. Tonight was a night where some shots fell and we got the shots we wanted.”
Westbrook leads the NBA in scoring (31.8) and is second in assists (10.8). Of his 51 career triple doubles, six have come when he has poured in at least 40 points. Only Oscar Robertson (22) and Wilt Chamberlain (7) have more.
The numbers Westbrook continues to put up this season have surprised many. Just not Westbrook himself.
“Why not?” Westbrook said. “That’s my motto. That’s what I stand by. That’s what I believe in. Just continue to tell yourself ‘Why not?’ Continue to strive and make the right play to help your team win.