Kevin Love (after injury) and Kevin Durant fuel Timberwolves, Thunder [NBA preview]

Richard Rowe-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

SB Nation Chicago's look at the NBA's Western Conference continues with Brian Lauvray's preview of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Minnesota Timberwolves.

Thunder

In recent years, the Oklahoma City Thunder have rolled in prior to the season's start as every NBA head's second-favorite franchise. Led by the fun-loving trio of James Harden, Russell Westbrook, and ringleader, Kevin Durant, the squad's infectiously entertaining style of play and affable character is hard to beat and, particularly last season, has served as the anti-Heat/anti "Big 3" elixir that's always needed. But what can the Thunder do as an encore to a near-championship run last June? Simple. Keep on keeping on.

"Kevin Durant has range from anywhere within half court, Russell Westbrook is faster than a two-headed snake, James Harden does a little bit of everything, Skip Bayless says stupid stuff about vegan, burger patty-level beef between Westbrook and Durantula, everyone ignores Skip." The narrative may be showing some wear at this juncture, but the storyline still sticks: Sam Presti cooked up an organic, Frankenstein's monster of a roster that can hit from anywhere and penetrate even the most briar-patched of defenses. Having been ahead of schedule at every step of the way --pushing the Lake Show to six games in 2010, having the gall to advance all the way to the Western Conference Finals in 2011, and reeling off four straight against a purported monster Spurs squad before losing to the Heat in the Finals four months ago-- the Thunder now are in that late-stage adolescence and are darlings still, but by no means a "dark horse" and have at this point shed the journalistic pejorative of "too inexperienced" (as if they ever actually were).

With its steady maturation OKC finds itself (along with the LA Lakers and the "never count 'em out" San Antonio Spurs) favorites to repeat in the Western Conference and likely to face the Miami Heat in the Finals. But how will they respond as favorites, the alpha males, the nonsensical bluster from the Skip Baylesses of the world? I'm no mind-reader, that's not what I went to school for, but considering the calm and measured leadership in the locker room that Durant provides, the Thunder should handle the pressure just fine. OKC's biggest "fault" from last season, matching up with an otherworldly and angry basketball deity named LeBron? That hurdle still remains and it's up to the Thunder to prove that they can get past LeBron. Out West, the biggest obstacle is in the shape of a #12 now wearing the purple and gold of the Lakers, a move the Thunder's management countered by signing Hasheem Thabeet. Uhh. Yes? Cunning in its simplicity really, the Hack-A-Dwight method will leave the rest of the Thunder to run circles around the flagging squad of old joints and duct tape. [insert gif of Russell Westbrook laughing on sidelines of a Thunder romp in April 2013 playoff match against scowling Lakers, ed.]

Russell-westbrook_medium

Youth shall be served and the Thunder shall make the leap, winning the 2012-2013 title.

Timberwolves

Well, those dreams of playing in May were nice, Minnesota fans. Still, as if bleak, low-slung grey skies, feet of snow, and Ricky Rubio not being able to bound back into your lives until approx. December, now you're dealing with a Kevin Love-less November (and potenitally most of December) to boot, nothing to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, Timberwolves fan. Nor a "December to Remember," there little Suzy Minnesota Sports Fan. With a still recovering Ricky Rubio and now with Love's absence from the hardwood, is there anything to cheer for in the Target Center?

Kinda? Love's broken hand does afford Derrick Williams (personal favorite of the writer's) an opportunity to shine so that's one thing. Plus, Nikola Pekovic the breakout player of the year for the T-Wolves (sorry, Beas), J.J. Barea, Andrei Kirilenko, and Brandon Roy and, uhh, Luke Ridnour? Forget David Kahn's "All White Everything" ambitions, this roster is like David Kahn plotting for an unholy lineup of players from the NBA's recent past, present, and future and also Luke Ridnour. Also, Michael Beasley is no longer on the squad, so there's another thing to be happy about. Plus, with the injury bug already hitting Love there's no way that Brandon Roy's legs will fall off at the knees mid-game. Just kidding! Brandon Roy's magic legs will definitely fall off at the knees mid-game, thus setting two Guinness records: Most times a dude's legs have fallen off at the knees AND most people throwing up in a public setting. It's an ancient Roman vomitorium right in the heart of the Twin Cities! All season long!

The good news? Make like a Chicago Cubs fan and remember: "...there's always next year."

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