— The Timberwolves had lost eight straight, nine of their last 10 and mathematically had been eliminated from playoff contention in the Western Conference.
— Minnesota players had missed 158 games due to injury so far this season, forcing the Timberwolves to use 14 different starting lineups. (Conversely, OKC players had missed 99 games due to injury, forcing just four different starting lineups.)
— The biggest bummer of all: Minnesota came in having lost 24 consecutive games in April. Its last victory came at Golden State on April 8 … 2009. The Wolves' most recent April victory at the Target Center was an overtime win over Milwaukee on April 16 … 2008.
All this negativity could have been transformed into an unforgettably positive experience if Minnesota had been able to beat the team with the best record in the Western Conference.
Instead, OKC (44-16) barely managed to survive, which almost always seems to be the way it performs against the pesky Timberwolves (25-36).
The Thunder hung on for a 110-105 victory before a sellout crowd of 19,552 at the Target Center, which kept alive yet another negative for Minnesota.
The Timberwolves have now lost 12 straight against OKC.
It took heroic performances from All-Stars Kevin Durant (43 points; seven rebounds) and Russell Westbrook (35 points; eight assists; two steals) for the Thunder to avoid what would have been an unacceptable loss to a team without three of its top five scorers because of injuries.
The last time OKC played the Timberwolves, power forward Kevin Love had a franchise-record 51 points in a 149-140 double-overtime loss at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Love (26.0 points per game; 13.3 rebounds per game) was out with a concussion Saturday.
Also out were starting guards Luke Ridnour (12.1 ppg; 4.8 assists) and Ricky Rubio (10.6 ppg; 8.2 assists).
All that missing ammo, yet Minnesota nearly gunned down the best in the West.
"You've got to give our guys a lot of credit," Minnesota coach Rick Adelman said afterward.
Hey, no argument from the Thunder locker room.
"They played well," OKC coach Scott Brooks said. "They shot the ball well (50 percent). They moved the ball and they really did a good job offensively. We didn't play well, but you give them credit. … They didn't back down with all their injuries." The biggest thorn in the Thunder's side on Saturday was the smallest guy on the court in point guard J.J. Barea, who is generously listed at 6-foot and is no stranger to OKC.
As a reserve with the world champion Dallas Mavericks last season, Barea averaged 11.4 points, shot 47.8 percent from the floor, 46.2 percent from 3-point range and 87.5 percent from the free-throw line against OKC in the Western Conference Finals — all in just 16.8 minutes per game.
In that March 23 double-overtime thriller at OKC, Barea had 25 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds, and did so with an injured hamstring.
Saturday's game started much the same as Barea scored 14 points in the first 13 minutes and had 17 points by halftime while shooting 7 for 10 from the field.
At halftime, Brooks pleaded for more defense.
"It actually did get better in the second half on Barea — on Barea only," Brooks said.
Reserves Michael Beasley (26 points; six rebounds) and Anthony Tolliver (22 points; 11 rebounds) kept the Wolves in the game, as did starting center Nikola Pekovic (14 points; 13 rebounds).
Barea hit a late 3-pointer to finish with 24 points and was 9 for 16 from the field.
OKC's two-headed monster of Durant and Westbrook was simply too overwhelming.
"We haven't had much success on those two guys," Adelman said. Saturday's box score
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