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Thunder 113, Timberwolves 99

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OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma City Thunder overcame an injury to another starter in a blowout win over the struggling Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night, pulling into a tie with the New Orleans Pelicans for the eighth playoff spot.

In what was a highly competitive contest for most of three quarters, Oklahoma City (36-29) earned a 113-99 win, handing the Timberwolves (14-50) their third loss in a row.

Forward Kevin Durant is scheduled to be out 1-2 more weeks as he continues recovery from a surgical procedure on his foot, and forward Serge Ibaka sat out Friday’s contest with knee soreness, thrusting rookie forward Mitch McGary into the starting lineup.

Minnesota was also playing with some significant players sidelined by injury. Forward Kevin Garnett and center Nikola Pekovic, both normally in the starting lineup, missed the contest.

Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook, who was named Western Conference Player of the Month before tip-off, struggled shooting the ball much of the game, but recently-acquired center Enes Kanter provided enough offense and rebounding to make up for both Westbrook’s struggles and Ibaka’s absence.

Westbrook started the game by shooting 4-for-4 in the first quarter with 4 assists. He never found a rhythm after that, missing his next seven attempts. He stayed aggressive throughout the game however, catching fire in the fourth quarter with 15 points in the period. He finished with a triple double of 29 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds on 11-for-23 shooting.

Kanter was a consistent source of offense throughout the game, scoring eight points in the first quarter and earning a double-double of 23 points and 15 rebounds.

Minnesota’s Rookie of the Year candidate Andrew Wiggins shot 10-for-10 from the free throw line in the first quarter, but only got to the free throw line twice the rest of the game and struggled from the field. He shot only 4-for-13 and scored 19 points.

Oklahoma City led for a majority of the game, with Minnesota’s only leads coming in the second quarter, when the Timberwolves went on a 12-0 run midway through the period. The Thunder led 55-49 at the half.

The Timberwolves kept the game close through much of the third quarter, but the team’s upset efforts were hindered when another starter, point guard Ricky Rubio, left the game with an apparent ankle injury. Rubio did not return, and finished with seven points and four assists on 3-for-8 shooting. Rookie point guard and slam dunk champion Zach LaVine ran the offense in his place.

Oklahoma City had five players in double figures. In addition to Kanter and Westbrook, forward Dion Waiters and McGary scored 12 points each. Guard D.J. Augustin added 13 points.

Center Gorgui Dieng was the leading scorer for Minnesota with 21 points and 14 rebounds. Guard Kevin Martin scored 14, and center Justin Hamilton added 17 points and 10 rebounds off the bench.

NOTES: Oklahoma City PF Serge Ibaka missed his first game of the season missed the game with right soreness and is day-to-day. Ibaka averaged 13 points, 11.5 rebounds and two blocked shots in Oklahoma City’s two victories over Minnesota. … Minnesota SG Kevin Martin missed the first two games against his former team. Martin played one season for Oklahoma City, which acquired him from Houston for G James Harden. …The Minnesota Timberwolves have not finished the season with a winning record since 2004-05, which was the last season of current coach Flip Saunders first stint on the bench.

Up to the minute news and reports from the news wire of The Sports Xchange.

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