This is the sixth year in a row that the Thunder have been featured on a Christmas Day game. And this year they drew a proper opponent: the Minnesota Timberwolves, who are eminently capable of being a pest for extended periods yet still have a sub-.500 record. The Wolves, in fact, were up 27-23 after the first quarter, though they were in a four-point hole at halftime and Thunder defense and offense both went up a couple of notches in ferocity in the second half. Just inside the four-minute mark, OKC held a 20-point lead, despite all three of Minnesota’s scoring threats having performed within screaming distance of their season averages, and shortly thereafter the benches were cleared. When it was all over, the Thunder had won their 19th game of the year against 12 losses, 112-100, their second against the Wolves with two to play.
Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins both eased through the 20-point barrier, and Zach LaVine was right behind at 16, but almost all their bench production came from Shabazz Muhammad (15 points out of 26). This couldn’t reasonably be expected to hold the line against the OKC run-and-gun attack, led by (of course) Russell Westbrook with a 31-15-7, both Enes Kanter and Steven Adams scoring 20-plus, and Alex Abrines’ on-again, off-again three-point prowess on again. (Weirdly, both teams hit exactly one-third of their treys, though the Wolves put up only 12 and the Thunder tossed up 24.) So the only thing really in doubt might have been “Will Westbrook get another technical?” Answer: yes.
Five of the next six games are on the road, the sole exception being a New Year’s Eve matchup with the Clippers. Before that, it’s Miami (Tuesday) and Memphis (Thursday), followed by Milwaukee, Charlotte and Houston. After that, things get more complicated.