The Minnesota Timberwolves and Oklahoma City Thunder needed big nights from their superstars to wrap up narrow season-opening victories.
Now Kevin Love and Kevin Durant will try to outdo each other Friday night in Minnesota.
Unlike Durant, who has finished second in MVP voting in back-to-back years, Love has some work to do to reclaim his status as one of the NBA's elite after a disappointing 2012-13. A twice-broken hand limited him to 18 games in which he averaged 18.3 points and a career-low 35.2 percent shooting. Love was only one season removed from being named a member of the league's all-second team after finishing fourth in scoring and second in rebounding.
Wednesday's 120-115 overtime home win over Orlando was a good start.
Love scored 31 points - a number he reached just twice last season - and hit a 3-pointer with 10.2 seconds left to force the extra period. He was 3 for 8 from beyond the arc and also recorded a game-high 17 rebounds.
"I think we can all agree he's already a star," Kevin Martin, who scored 23 points in his Timberwolves debut after being traded from Oklahoma City, told the team's official website. "He's hungry this year. He wants to get this playoff experience for the first time, and you know he played big for us tonight. You can't put it into words, but you know we were going to expect that out of him every night."
Durant scored 42 points in a 101-98 win at Utah on Wednesday. He was just 9 of 24 from the field but 22 of 24 from the free throw line.
The seventh-year pro averaged 17.7 shots per game last season, his fewest since his rookie year. That number will likely be higher this season, at least until Russell Westbrook returns in the next four-to-six weeks after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery.
"I just tried to be aggressive and I think my teammates put me in great positions to be aggressive," Durant said. "I need to finish some of those 'and-1s' and make more shots."
Durant is averaging 32.8 points on 53.8 percent shooting over his last 16 games against Minnesota with Oklahoma City winning 14 times.
Love posted 28 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists while going 9 for 20 from the field in his lone game against Oklahoma City last year, a 99-93 win on Dec. 20. It was the first of two consecutive home wins in the series for the Timberwolves after they had dropped 10 of the previous 11 meetings in Minnesota.
Ricky Rubio finished with 13 points, 11 assists and three steals Wednesday, extending the NBA's second-longest active streak of games with a steal to 22. He's recorded nine steals over his last two meetings with Oklahoma City.
Martin averaged 22.8 points while hitting 44.6 percent of his 3-point attempts in his previous 18 games against the Thunder before joining them prior to last season.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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