NBA Basketball

Thunder to fight for playoff position at Timberwolves

It's become easy to get desensitized to Russell Westbrook's numbers.

On Tuesday, Westbrook became only the second player in NBA history to record a 20-point, 20-rebound, 20-assist game.

Friday, he clinched becoming the first player in league history to average a triple-double for three consecutive seasons.

"I think the fact he's done this three years in a row ... people don't understand what has happened," Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. "People are going to look back in time, and I think what he has done will be more appreciated later on than it is right now."

Going into Sunday's game at the Minnesota Timberwolves, Westbrook is displaying more of the pass-first approach that made the Thunder (46-33) a contender to finish in one of the top two spots in the Western Conference before their post All-Star break slide.

It wasn't just Westbrook in Friday's win, as backup point guard Dennis Schroder had 10 assists to go with Westbrook's 15.

"I think when those guys get a head of steam, and they can see the floor and it's opened up, they have an idea of, OK, if the defense rotates, where they're going to go with it," Donovan said.

Minnesota has won two consecutive games and four of its last seven, including a win over Golden State.

Interim coach Ryan Saunders said the Timberwolves continued to play hard, even after being eliminated from the playoff race.

"I'm a firm believer you don't get better by picking up bad habits at the end of a season, rolling the ball out there and seeing what happens," Saunders said. "You need to prepare, have a positive attitude about it. Because it's going to carry over into the summer, and summer carries over to the preseason, then we go into the regular season."

The Thunder head into the game in seventh place in the West, a half-game behind the Los Angeles Clippers and a half-game ahead of the San Antonio Spurs.

While the Clippers and Spurs have just two games remaining, Oklahoma City has three games left to play. The Thunder finish on a back-to-back -- at home against Houston on Tuesday and at Milwaukee on Wednesday.

Oklahoma City seemed destined for the eighth seed a week ago -- and it remains a real possibility -- but with back-to-back wins for the first time since mid-March, the Thunder have put themselves into contention to finish as high as sixth.

Consistency has been an issue, though.

The Thunder haven't won more than two consecutive games since a four-game streak from Feb. 5-11 that capped a stretch in which Oklahoma City won 11 of 12.

While the Timberwolves will miss the playoffs for the 14th time in 15 seasons, Minnesota figures to be a tough out for the Thunder. The Timberwolves have won each of the season's first three meetings, including a pair of two-point victories early in the season in Oklahoma City and a 131-120 home win March 5.

--Field Level Media.

Updated April 6, 2019

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