Originally Published: November 11, 2013

1. Love This Game: How West Puts On Show

By Kevin Arnovitz | ESPN.com

LOS ANGELES -- The smile on Kevin Love's face as his potential game-tying putback fell off the lip of the rim at the buzzer said it all: His Minnesota Timberwolves' 109-107 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers was disappointing, but man, was it a blast.

The Staples Center floor Monday night was stacked with really fun players -- guys like Love, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Ricky Rubio, Jamal Crawford, even othersized big man Nikola Pekovic. The landscape of the Western Conference this season looks much the same way.

Blake Griffin
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsBlake Griffin and Kevin Love were both forces to contend with in Monday's clash.

Let's start with Minnesota. Despite dropping the second game of their Staples Center back-to-back, the Timberwolves can't be too dispirited about their 48-hour visit to Los Angeles after thrashing the Lakers on Sunday, then roaring back from a double-digit deficit against the Clippers one night later. Minnesota is a prime candidate to be this season's Golden State Warriors, a curiosity in November that grows into the team nobody wants to face in April.

"They're a team to be reckoned with," Crawford said. "They're playing loose. They're playing free. I think coach [Rick] Adelman does a really good job of putting those guys in position."

In his third season at the helm in Minneapolis, Adelman finally has the pieces for his read-and-react offense. The Timberwolves feature two skilled big men who know how to move the ball, a whirling dervish of a point guard, a personal Adelman favorite in Kevin Martin whose game is perfectly tailored to Adelman's schemes, and a lightning-quick wing in Corey Brewer who can catch outlet passes like a sticky-handed wideout.

There was mutual praise after the game. Love and Rubio enumerated the case for the Clippers.

"Blake [Griffin] is a very good player," Love said. "DeAndre [Jordan] is a very good player. They have good bigs and they fight hard. They're very athletic, rebound the ball and, you know, the high-wire act."

Meanwhile, the normally reserved Rubio effusively praised the conductor of that, you know, high-wire act, Paul.

"He's great," Rubio said. "He's at the top, the best player right now out of all the point guards in the league."

The defense still needs work in Los Angeles, but the starters are holding their own. The Clippers and Timberwolves might be able to run roughshod in the East, where only three teams are playing better than .500 ball. But the West is merciless and the conference is as intriguing as it has been in years. Every team carries its own brand of charisma, and each has its vulnerabilities.

Nobody knows what to make of the Houston Rockets, the team with the most elastic expectations. The Rockets are the only team in the league apart from the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder to sport a top-10 offense and top-10 defense. The Dwight Howard-Omer Asik pairing continues to be awkward, but when Houston stretches the floor, they've been lethal.

The Warriors are no longer a novelty act, not with the league's No. 2 defense. A team that a few weeks ago was regarded as the "bottom of the top" in the West looks like a potential contender. They're deep, comparatively healthy, feature the best wing-big defensive combo in the West and the best shooter on the planet. Imagine the possibilities when they learn how to protect the basketball.

Remember the Thunder? The team that flaunted one of the best point differentials in decades heading into the playoffs last April? They haven't looked all that good, but still sit at 5-1, banking wins while figuring out what they have around their core. Russell Westbrook is still finding his footing after returning from knee surgery, while Kevin Durant's long-range accuracy has dipped, even as he still averages more than 30 points per game.

Who are we missing? Ah, yes. San Antonio, which has been toiling in obscurity. The Spurs perform nightly surgery, finding shots in the half court wherever they want them and further schooling their young wings in the science of team defense. All the while, they've racked up a 7-1 record out of the gate with the best point differential in the West. Dominance with a whisper.

The Memphis Grizzlies might have a say before it's all over, and a mystery guest such as Portland, Dallas or New Orleans (OK, Phoenix, you too) could crash the party. And come April, a missed putback at the buzzer will elicit a scowl instead of a smile. Until then, enjoy the jockeying in the West and, you know, the frenzy that comes with the race.

Dimes past: October 29 | 30 | 31 | November 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 10

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