Clippers-Timberwolves preview: What is wrong with the Clippers?

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

The Clippers have lost four in a row for the first time since Chris Paul came to town and desperately need a win tonight against Kevin Love and the Timberwolves.

2012/2013 NBA Regular Season
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8-6

6-7
November 28th, 2012, 7:30 PM
STAPLES Center
Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM
Clippers Tickets
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Luke Ridnour
Willie Green Chauncey Billups SG Malcolm Lee
Caron Butler SF Andrei Kirilenko
Blake Griffin PF Kevin Love
DeAndre Jordan C Nikola Pekovic
Advanced Stats through Nov. 27
92.2 (16th of 30) Pace 90.7 (26th of 30)
107.1 (7th of 30) ORtg 101.5 (24th of 30)
102.9 (11th of 30) DRtg 102.0 (7th of 30)
Injuries
Chauncey Billups (Achilles) questionable
Ricky Rubio (ACL surgery) out
Trey Thompkins (knee) out
Chase Budinger (knee surgery) out
Grant Hill (knee) out
Brandon Roy (knee surgery) out

The Back Story:

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

The Big Picture:

A week ago the Clippers were riding a six game winning streak, the longest in the NBA at the time and tied for the team's longest in more than 20 years. Since then they have lost four straight, the longest current losing streak in the Western Conference and the longest for the team since the Chris Paul trade. What a difference a week makes. The losses have gotten progressively uglier also. In Oklahoma City the battled back to tie the game and had a chance to win in regulation before finally succumbing to the defending Western Conference champs in overtime. They played a good first half in Brooklyn and led the Nets before falling to pieces in the second half. They followed that ugly second half with their worst game of the season in Atlanta, the first time they've really been bad from start to finish in a game. But at least that was a road game against a decent team. Loss number four was at home against a New Orleans Hornets team missing their two best players (and they weren't particularly good to begin with). There's always an ebb and flow to an NBA season, and in four weeks the Clippers have looked like the best team in the league and one of the worst -- so which is it? They'll start playing better -- there's undeniable talent here. Unfortunately, riding losing streak, at 0-3 at home against 2012 lottery teams, and facing a Timberwolves team that owned them last season (winning all three when Kevin Love played) this might not be the night the Clippers right the ship.

The Antagonist:

Like the Clippers, the Timberwolves believe they have a young power forward-point guard duo to build around for many, many years to come. Unfortunately for them, they played the first nine games of the season without either of them. Ricky Rubio tore his ACL last February and is still recovering after surgery. Kevin Love broke his hand working out in the preseason and returned to action last week. Paradoxically, although Love has put up his typical huge numbers, the Wolves are 1-3 since his return, finally getting their first win last night in Sacramento; they opened the season 5-2. The Wolves frontline -- with Love, a rejuvenated Andrei Kirilenko and the man-beast that is Nikola Pekovic -- is one of the best in basketball, but their perimeter depth has been hit hard with injuries. In addition to Rubio, the Wolves have seen both Chase Budinger and Brandon Roy undergo knee surgery since the start of the season. But help is on the way -- if Rubio gets the go ahead from his doctor this week, he could begin full contact practices and there is talk of a pre-Christmas return to game action for the Spaniard. The last few playoff spots in the West appear to be up for grabs -- the Timberwolves should certainly be in the mix for one of them once they have Rubio back.

The Subplots

  • [Note by Steve Perrin, 11/28/12 12:14 PM PST ] Billups to start. According to a tweet from Yahoo!'s Marc Spears, Chauncey Billups will start tonight, playing for the first time since he ruptured his Achilles tendon last February. It could be good timing for the Clippers -- in the throes of a four game losing streak, they need to shake things up, and seeing Billups out there, a team leader who has worked very hard to get back on the court after a major injury at age 36, should give the team a jolt of energy.
  • Comparison of key metrics. Remember when the Clippers were leading the league in pace? Well, they're no longer in the top half of the league. So they were pushing the tempo and winning, and now they're not and losing... anyone see a pattern here? Obviously it's not as simple as just running more -- it really starts with defense where steals lead to easy baskets, etc. But it does seem to be a factor.
  • Pacific Division. It's really too early to be worrying about this sort of thing of course, but the Clippers now find themselves tied with Golden State for first place in the Pacific Division after leading it by three games a matter of days ago. A loss tonight would knock the Clippers out of first place for the first time this season.
  • Russian connection. Everyone always assumed that if Kirilenko returned to the NBA after spending last season playing in his native Russia it would be to play for the Brooklyn Nets, owned by his countryman Mikhail Prokhorov. Instead AK47 signed with the Timberwolves, who also signed his CSKA Moscow and Team Russia teammate Alexey Shved. Kirilenko has been stellar in his return to the NBA (though he's cooled off recently, see below). Shved has struggled to make shots but has found other ways to contribute in his rookie season.
  • Career worsts. In the first game of this losing streak last week in Oklahoma City, Chris Paul made just 1-12 shots during regulation, finishing 2-14. It was among the worst shooting nights of his entire career. In the fourth game of the streak Monday against New Orleans, Blake Griffin had the worst game of his career, scoring four points on 1-9 shooting. The Clippers are supposed to be deep, but no team can easily overcome such terrible nights from their stars.
  • Back-to-back. Prior to the Hornets game we discussed how this is probably the softest part of the Clippers schedule this season. The schedule makers did the team an additional favor by bringing in opponents playing the second game of back-to-back games. New Orleans was on a B2B, as is Minnesota, and Sacramento will be on Saturday as well. Meanwhile, the Clippers are home with days off between games. Of course, it didn't matter on Monday, so we'll see.
  • Love. The Clippers have made a habit of losing to teams missing their best players. Last season it was Cleveland without Kyrie Irving and this season they've already lost to Golden State without Andrew Bogut and New Orleans without Gordon and Davis. So maybe it's good that Kevin Love is back. Then again, Love was 3-0 against the Clippers last season, and made the three pointer at the buzzer that capped their huge comeback win in STAPLES Center in the first meeting last season, so no, it's probably not a good thing. Love has shot poorly in his four game back -- he's wearing a protective glove on his broken hand -- making just 42% of his field goals, 21% of his threes. But he's still putting up huge numbers -- 24 points and 16.5 rebounds per game so far. He had 23 points and 24 rebounds in Sacramento last night, his 16th career 20-20 game. By comparison, Blake Griffin (who has admittedly been in the league about half as long) as one career 20-20 game.
  • Hot and cold part 1. Remember when DeAndre Jordan was leading the league in field goal percentage? Through the first eight games he never missed more than three shots in any single game, and missed three only once. He's since missed at least three in six straight, including nights of 5-14 and 1-4. In those first eight he was shooting better than 71% from the field; in the last six he's under 45%. I really, really tried not to believe in his jump hook; I tried to convince myself that it was a fluke that it kept going in, and just about the time I decided it wasn't a fluke, the damn thing stopped dropping. In fact, DJ has shot multiple airballs in recent games and is not looking at all like the same player on offense.
  • Hot and cold part 2. Remember when Jamal Crawford was leading the league in points per minute? Well, immediately after I pointed out that fact Crawford came back to earth -- perhaps not crashing to earth, but a definite regression to the mean. Crawford's still scoring at an amazing clip and his overall shooting numbers are still far above his career averages. On November 19 Crawford was averaging 26.5 points per 36 minutes with a true shooting percentage of .683. Today, five games later, he's averaging 22.5 points per 36 with a TSP of .615. His early season production was never sustainable of course, and his numbers will continue to come down from their previously gaudy levels. But it was nice while it lasted.
  • Hot and cold part 3. This regression to the mean thing doesn't only affect Clippers as it happens. Through the first nine games of the season, Kirilenko was shooting almost 60% overall and 53% from deep. In the last four games he's fallen into a nasty slump, shooting 34% overall and missing eight of his nine three point attempts. Small sample sizes are fun!
  • Clippers bench. This was the Clippers' secret weapon during their hot start this season, but the bench faltered on the road trip and that trend continued on Monday when the Clippers reserves were outscored by the Hornets reserves 44-28. But that's not really a fair comparison -- after all, New Orleans has Brian Roberts and Lance Thomas.
  • Butler and the three point shooting. After making a franchise record nine three pointers on Monday, Caron Butler is now making 49% on the season. In fact, the Clippers have three players making better than 40% of their threes -- Butler, Willie Green (44%) and Jamal Crawford (41%). There was concern that three point shooting could be a weakness of this team, but so far it's been more than adequate, and it should only get better when Billups returns.
  • Derrick Williams. In the second meeting between the Wolves and Clippers last season, it wasn't so Kevin Love who did in the Clippers but Derrick Williams and Michael Beasley, with each scoring 27 including some simply ridiculous fourth quarter shooting. Beasley has moved on the Phoenix, and Williams has moved into Rick Adelman's doghouse -- he's gotten DNPs in three of the team's last four games.
  • Get the Timberwolves perspective at Canis Hoopus.
  • Lyrical reference:

    A Wolf at the Door -- Radiohead

    I keep the wolf from the door
    But he calls me up
    Calls me on the phone
    Tells me all the ways that he's gonna mess me up
    Steal all my children
    If I don't pay the ransom
    And I'll never see them again
    If I squeal to the cops


    Radiohead man. I love this band. I love this song. (Heck, I love this video.) If you don't know the song, don't dismiss it right away. Give it a few listens. This is not a band, nor a song, to be taken lightly. You have to earn it.
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