Clippers vs. Minnesota - Game Preview

2010/2011 NBA Regular Season
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vs.
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8-4

6-8
STAPLES Center
January 20th, 2012, 7:30 PM
FSN Prime Ticket, ESPN, KFWB 980 AM
Probable starters:
Chauncey Billups
PG Ricky Rubio
Randy Foye SG Luke Ridnour
Caron Butler
Ryan Gomes
SF Wesley Johnson
Blake Griffin
PF Kevin Love
DeAndre Jordan
C Darko Milicic

The Back Story:

First meeting of the season. The Clippers won three of four meetings last season.

The Big Picture:

The Clippers just completed their first back-to-back-to-back of the compressed season and they did it without the services of Chris Paul, so all things considered, a 2-1 record in those three games is a terrific result, even if the total point differential wasn't terrific. A blowout loss in Utah is long forgotten after the thrilling last second victory over the defending champion Mavericks on Wednesday. The Clippers are now 7-1 at home and have won seven straight in Staples. The 1-3 road record is certainly a concern, but we'll worry about that another time, with these next two at home. Unfortunately, the latest word is that Paul will miss this game as well as he continues to rest his strained hamstring. Of course in the long run we'd all much rather he miss some games now than come back to soon and cause greater damage, but it's less comfortable going into any game without him. Having Mo Williams back does help soften the blow. Wednesday against Dallas Williams was a difference maker, leading the Clippers in scoring with 26 points on 11 for 15 shooting. The big matchup of this game of course will be Blake Griffin versus Kevin Love. The very different power forwards are both putting up monster numbers this season, and are two of the three NBA players averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds so far on the season (the third is Dwight Howard).

The Antagonist:

Newsflash - the Timberwolves aren't terrible. Since this is the first time in five years or so since that's been the case, it qualifies as news. The Timberwolves are 6-8 on the season, and have yet to be blown out (something the Clippers cannot say for themselves). They are turning into the new "must-see" team, this season's Clippers if you will. Kevin Love is of course a monster, as he was last season. He's still a beast on the glass, but he's now shooting five three pointers a game while maintaining a decent percentage from deep (last season he shot three a game). But the real story for the Wolves is rookie point guard Ricky Rubio -- no one was quite sure what to expect from the young Spaniard, but I don't think anyone expected this. Rubio is eighth in the league in assists per game, and second in assists per 36 minutes. He's also shooting better than anyone expected he would -- over 40% so far from three point range. In addition to Love and Rubio, there is the new coach, Rick Adelman. Adelman has always seemed to get the most out of his teams. His Houston teams always overachieved. There's talent on the Minnesota roster, and Adelman is the man to figure out how it all fits together. Do not sleep on this team.

The Subplots

  • [Note by Steve Perrin, 01/20/12 6:38 PM PST ] According to Ric Bucher, Caron Butler has a hyperextended knee and is not going to play tonight. Apparently he suffered the injury in the Utah game, and that might explain his weak performance against Dallas. At any rate, Gomes will get the start and the Clippers thin bench gets a lot thinner.
  • The 2009 NBA Draft. The 2009 Draft has produced the last two NBA Rookies of the Year. Could it produce it's third in a row? Blake Griffin was the first overall pick, but injured his knee during preseason and missed the entire 09-10 season. That left the door open for Tyreke Evans, the fourth overall pick, to win ROY in 2010 (hey, somebody had to win). Griffin made his debut last season, and was a unanimous choice for 2011 ROY. Meanwhile, Rubio spent two additional seasons playing in the ACB in Spain after being the fifth pick in the 2009 draft, and is a leading candidate for ROY this season. Other candidates will emerge over the course of the season, but for now it looks like a two man race between Rubio and 2011 first overall pick Kyrie Irving.
  • A rich man's Luke Ridnour. I can remember Ricky Rubio skeptics complaining that he was not that much better than Luke Ridnour, who was already in Minnesota. What those skeptics always seemed to ignore is that Ridnour is a pretty nice NBA player. Adelman recognized that Ridnour and Rubio were his too best guards, and for the last four games he's been starting the two of them together. Like the Clippers, the Wolves' guard rotation consists of essentially three point guards -- Rubio, Ridnour and J.J. Barea, a Clipper-killer with the Mavericks last season. So the Clipper guards won't be getting posted up, but they will have their hands full nonetheless.
  • The Minny Pick. The Clippers received a first round draft pick from the Timberwolves ages ago -- back when Kevin Garnett was a Timberwolf and Minnesota was good. The deal was a complete steal for the Clippers: Sam Cassell and a protected first round pick for a signed-and-traded Marko Jaric. The Clippers patiently waited through seven years of restrictions on that pick, and then finally included it in the trade that brought Chris Paul to LA. The pick was perceived as having massive value because Minnesota had been truly bad in recent years and would likely have a lot of ping pong balls in the lottery. Well, with the T-Wolves now playing well, it's looking more like that pick could wind up being in the 10 to 12 range. Still nice, but probably not the first overall (barring some lottery luck for the Hornets). So the Clippers appear to have made a shrewd, if ultimately lucky, move -- they sold high on the value of that pick, leveraging it as part of a deal to get a second superstar to LA.
  • Margin of victory. Among Minnesota's 8 losses are several of four or fewer points and no blow outs. Consequently, they actually have a positive overall point differential at +2.1. The Clippers on the other hand, despite their 8-4 record, have a point differential of just +0.8, owing to a 25 point loss in San Antonio and a 29 point loss in Utah. Of course, those still only count as one loss each in the standings, but if you're a fan of point differential, then you should fear the T-Wolves.
  • Strength of Schedule. But there's a problem with the small sample size of 14 games (12 for the Clippers). The Clippers have the toughest strength of schedule in the league through games of Wednesday, while the Timberwolves are 18th, last among Western Conference teams. Minnesota's last four wins have come against four of the worst teams in the league; the Clippers on the other hand have only played three teams all season with losing records. They've got Minnesota tonight and Toronto Sunday afternoon - these are home games against teams with losing records, and you simply have to win them.
  • Love's minutes. Kevin Love used to be the poster boy for advanced stats. His second season in the league, he had a PER over 20, but coach Kurt Rambis for some reason refused to start him and played him less than 29 minutes per game. Well, he no longer has that problem. This season he's playing just shy of 40 minutes per game, tops in the league.
  • Butler. Through 11 games, Caron Butler had been the picture of consistency, scoring between 11 and 20 points in every game. Then Wednesday night against Dallas he went 1 for 12 and scored 2 points. I suspect he'll have a big bounce back game in this one. I see no reason to suspect that second year player Wesley Johnson can handle him.
  • Barea. Wednesday the Clippers faced Dallas, and were no doubt thrilled not to have to deal with J.J. Barea, who has absolutely tormented the LAC over the years. Unfortunately, the respite from Barea torture was short-lived, as he'll be in town tonight with the Wolves. We'll see if his magical powers over the Clippers extend to another uniform.
  • Love and Griffin. The marquee matchup tonight, the one that ESPN will be talking about and building pretty graphics around, is Kevin Love versus Blake Griffin. In four meetings last season, the two were pretty evenly matched. Griffin scored better (26 compared to 20), Love rebounded better (13 to 11). Of course, Griffin won on the scoreboard in three of the four meetings. The irony is that although everyone will talk of the battle of the power forwards, the two might not even guard each other. Minnesota may want to put the length of Darko Milicic on Griffin to start the game. And though I think the Clippers will start with Griffin on Love (since they don't want Love to be luring DeAndre Jordan too far away from the basket), I suspect that coach Vinny Del Negro will switch Jordan over onto him at points throughout the game, just to give him a different look.
  • Beasley. Michael Beasley has been hurt for a couple of weeks, during which time the Wolves have won four of seven. I'm not sure anyone has said that the team is better without Beasley, but let's face it, everyone is thinking it.
  • DeAndre versus Darko. DeAndre had a couple of good games against the Timberwolves last season. He has an athleticism advantage over Milicic, but Darko is one of the only guys in the league who may actually be longer than DeAndre. Both are talented but inconsistent, and if either can have a big game for their team it could have a major impact on the outcome.
  • Big man rotation. With Brian Cook nursing a sore ankle (and undeserving of a roster spot in the first place, but I digress) the Clippers have mostly stuck with Griffin, Jordan and Reggie Evans in the front court. Solomon Jones played four minutes against the Mavs and recorded a 4 trillion in the box score -- but at least he didn't register an 0 for 5 shooting night. I could also see Ryan Gomes getting some power forward minutes in a pinch. Rookie Trey Thompson has potential, but he still has a ways to go before he's a productive NBA player.
  • The ClipperWolves. Former Timberwolves Ryan Gomes and Randy Foye will be facing their former team tonight, as will Chauncey Billups, though you have to go back to his pre-Detroit days to find Chauncey in a Minnesota uniform. His stint with the Wolves really got his career back on the right track as he was widely considered a bust after being the third pick in the draft. He was playing for his fourth team in four years when he arrived in Minny, but he parlayed starter's minutes filling in for the injured Terrell Brandon into a mid-level contract with Detroit, and the rest is Mr. Big Shot history.
  • The Bench. The Clippers' bench got about 10 times better when Mo Williams returned to the lineup. Beyond Williams, it's not very pretty. Evans is a great rebounded and a good defender, but is almost useless on offense. Gomes is at best solid. And it goes down quickly from there. If the game is close (and assuming Paul does not play) I doubt that VDN will venture far past these three off the bench.
  • From the Urban Dictionary:

    wolve

    the utmost extreme, above all else.

    you are wolve.
    you are lucky if you are as wolve as Lauren and Kelsey.
    you have just been wolved.
    that is so wolve!
  • Get the Timberwolves perspective at Canis Hoopus.
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