The Back Story:
The Big Picture:
The Clippers already have two wins over the Timberwolves this season. Of course, both of those were in LA, and neither was quite as comfortable as you would like playing the team with by far the worst record in the Western Conference. In the last meeting, the Clippers were without Eric Gordon and their other two leading scorers, Chris Kaman and Baron Davis, combined to shoot 7 for 30. Fortunately, Al Thornton scored a season-high 31 to ensure the victory. It's no secret that the Clippers are three games under .500, and that they open this road trip against three teams with records among the worst in the league (Minnesota, New York and Philadelphia). So in theory, the Clippers could be 13 and 13 by Sunday. Of course, just mentioning that means it will never happen but Prime Ticket brought it up before I did, so don't blame me. The Clippers have been quite the Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde team lately. They looked great the middle two quarters against Orlando, terrible the first and last. They looked great for about 10 minutes against the Spurs, and really, really terrible the rest of the time. And against the Wizards Sunday it was more of the same, with one team or the other going on big runs. If the good team shows up (and hangs around for more than half the game) then this game should go in the W column. But who knows if that team is going to show up?
The Timberwolves have a strange habit of beating some good teams and losing to everybody else. Of course, since the Clippers don't qualify as a good team, this bodes well for tonight. As it happens, the Wolves have played a tough schedule so far - much tougher than the Clippers. So their 4-21 record may not be quite as bad as it seems. And their last three wins are against Denver and twice against Utah, including in Salt Lake City on Sunday. Is that an indication that the team is playing better or just a fluke? I guess we'll find out. Kevin Love has been back for seven games now and has been in the starting lineup the last three. He's a rebounding machine, but only shooting 34%. Al Jefferson leads them in scoring of course, but at 16.8 and 9.2, he hasn't been quite the 20/10 guy he was before he was injured. Then again, he has scored 24, 26 and 23 in his last three games, and grabbed 11 or more rebounds in seven straight, so he would seem to be getting closer to that form. Beyond Jefferson and Love, who are both fine players, I'm not really sold on any of the T-Wolves. Corey Brewer remains a shooting guard who can't shoot, though he does have the potential to be a great defender. Jonny Flynn can score, but he barely averages more assists than turnovers, which is not something you want from you point guard. Ryan Gomes is currently hurt, leaving them with Damien Wilkins starting at small forward, and frankly, I don't think Gomes should be starting in the NBA, so what does that say about his backup? There's really just not enough talent here.
- Hit the road. Only the Lakers have played fewer road games than the Clippers to this point in the season. That is about to change, as the Clippers start a six game road trip tonight. As mentioned above, it starts easy enough, with the Wolves, Knicks and Sixers. But it gets decided more difficult at the end, with games against the Spurs, Rockets and Suns. 3 and 3 would be pretty nice. Anything better than that is probably too much to ask.
- Homecoming for the Clipperwolves. Sebastian Telfair and Craig Smith are playing their former mates for the third time this season, but of course it's the first trip to frigid Minnesota (where the current temperature is -3 F). Telfair and Smith have not been playing particularly well lately, but they were each instrumental the last time the Clippers beat Minny. There's always a little extra motivation playing your former team.
- Kaman. In the first meeting, Chris Kaman shot 10 for 15 - in the second, he was 6 for 20. There's really no reason he shouldn't have a big game against the size-challenged Wolves. After slumping badly, he's played a little better the last two games. So which release level will we see tonight?
- Thornton. Al had the hot hand the last time these teams met, but Sunday night against Washington he never got going in the game, owing partly to foul trouble. I'm sure Al would love to have a big night tonight to make up for Sunday.
- Baron. Baron has a big size advantage on Flynn, yet he struggled in the last meeting. However, his only basket of the game was a big one, a driving layup in the final minutes to secure the win.
- Ugly wins. I haven't gone through all 10 Clipper wins to see how many of them qualify as 'ugly', but I think we can safely say that both Minnesota wins AND Sunday's win over the Wizards would fall into that category. It would be great to have a decisive, wire to wire win in this one. But I'd still rather have an ugly win than an ugly loss.
- The triangle. NY Times sportswriter Jonathan Abrams (who you may recall used to be the Clippers beat writer for the LA Times) has an interesting blog post about the Wolves' efforts to install the Triangle offense this season. Kurt Rambis of course is a long time assistant to Phil Jackson with the Lakers, so he has brought the Triangle with him to his new gig in Minnesota. I'm fascinated by the fact that essentially no one in the NBA other than Phil Jackson runs the Triangle, despite the fact that Phil's won 10 titles with it. Of course he's always had talent also - but surely these teams are doing something right beyond the talent? So why is the recent history of the NBA dotted with brief, failed attempts to install the offense in Dallas and post-Phil Chicago? The idea that it's too complicated just seems like a cop-out to me. If you're an NBA player and your JOB is to play basketball, you can learn the offense, it seems to me.
Good one, Manny. Second word, long teeth, and claws. Pack of wolves? Pack of...
- Get the Wolves perspective at Canis Hoopus.