Thunder edge Timberwolves

Published 9:37 am Tuesday, December 27, 2011

MINNEAPOLIS — Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder are primed to challenge for the Western Conference title this season, three years after the core of one of the most promising teams in the league was assembled.

Kevin Love and the Minnesota Timberwolves are a few years behind them, but hope to follow the same path.

Durant scored 33 points to lead the Thunder to a 104-100 victory over the Timberwolves on Monday night.

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Russell Westbrook added 28 points, six assists and six rebounds, and James Harden scored 16 points for the Thunder, who have started off a season loaded with expectations at 2-0.

“These are definitely games you got to be able to knuckle down, concentrate and get a win,” Westbrook said.

Westbrook and Durant took their lumps in 2008-09, when they won just 23 games. Three years later, they’re the ones giving them.

“We have a lot of guys that can get a basket: Russell, of course, James is really stepping it up scoring the ball,” Durant said. “I think we feed off each other really well; it’s not like guys are being selfish playing one-on-one basketball.”

Love had 22 points, 12 rebounds and five assists, and Ricky Rubio had an impressive debut with six assists, six points, five rebounds and no turnovers for the Timberwolves, who hung with one of the best teams in the league all game long.

“That’s a team that’s a contender and we took them down to the last minute. … The best thing is we gave ourselves a chance and if we play like that the rest of the season and continue to get better we’re going to win a lot of games,” Love said.

The Wolves led 96-95 with 3 minutes to play when Westbrook drove the length of the floor, hit a layup and the free throw for a three-point play to put the Thunder ahead.

Oklahoma City never trailed the rest of the way, but this one was in doubt from start to finish.

Michael Beasley scored 24 points on 11 for 27 shooting, and No. 2 overall pick Derrick Williams scored 13 for the Wolves, who were 3 for 22 from 3-point range.