As the Minnesota Timberwolves enter the post-David Kahn era, they look like a chemistry experiment gone wrong. They sport a lot of players that have really specific skillsets, and that's left them vulnerable in a lot of areas. Their most notable general weakness last year was a total lack of three point shooting, especially with Kevin Love struggling from the field. They brought in Kevin Martin to alleviate that issue, but they lost a lot of defensive skill in the process. Signing Corey Brewer (NOT Ronnie Brewer, who is now with the Rockets) was an attempt to cover those defensive weaknesses, but they overpaid for him.
Nevertheless, I think this is a huge statement game for Thabo Sefolosha. I wrote about Sefolosha's emerging offensive role with the team after our season opener against the Jazz, and I would love nothing more than for Thabo to dominate him on the stat sheet. Obviously, Thabo won't get the same amount of offensive consideration as Martin, but considering how terrible K-Mart's defense is, I think that the possibility is definitely there.
Ironically enough, one of the Thunder's losses to the T-Wolves last season came because of Kevin Martin's absence, leaving them offensively bereft in the backcourt. The T-Wolves were basically able to go to a zone and force OKC out on the perimeter, like it was some sort of European game or something.
On the other hand, both of Oklahoma City's victories last season came when the Timberwolves were without Kevin Love. On both occasions, the Thunder were basically able to outscore Minnesota in fast-paced contests. The trio of Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka was used heavily, and turnovers were basically the only thing that slowed the Thunder down. In short, they cruised on talent.
How the game shapes up tonight will be interesting to see. If his first 31 point, 17 rebound game is any indication, Kevin Love is finally back in form. And if their first score of 120-115 is any indication, the Timberwolves are probably going to play a fast-paced NBA JAM-like game. Thus, with the loss of Russell Westbrook, it's hard to see Oklahoma City having the firepower to compete on offense alone.
So if the Thunder are going to win tonight, they're going to have to really clamp down defensively, and I'm not really confident about their ability to do it. You see, Nikola Pekovic went well over his averages against OKC in three games last season, and I the Thunder don't really have a center that can tango with him. And I doubt they would take Ibaka or Collison off of Kevin Love. Plus, you've got the classic Thunder-killer in J.J. Barea lurking on the bench, and the player we'll likely be throwing at him is Derek Fisher. Yikes.
My suggestion would be to just go small and let some of the young guys try to pull us to victory. Because, matchup-wise, the Timberwolves are slated to blow this thing wide open.
Prediction: Minnesota 110, Oklahoma City 97.