Clippers vs. Minnesota - Game Preview

2011/2012 NBA Regular Season
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vs.
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20-11

17-17
STAPLES Center
February 28th, 2012, 7:30 PM
FSN Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM
Probable starters:
Chris Paul
PG Ricky Rubio
Randy Foye SG Luke Ridnour
Caron Butler
SF Wesley Johnson
Blake Griffin
PF Kevin Love
DeAndre Jordan
C Nikola Pekovic

The Back Story:

The Big Picture:

The Clippers open the post All Star Game slate with a home game against the Timverwolves before heading out on a six game road trip. The Clippers have lots of incentive to win this game -- like avenging a bad loss to the Timberwolves back in January, when they lost a four point lead in the final minute and gave up a game winning three pointer to Kevin Love in the final seconds. Like getting off to a good start in the second half of the season. Like getting a home win before heading out on the road. The Clippers have plenty of incentive, and they also have plenty of excuses for why they lost that first game -- namely, they were without starters Chris Paul and Caron Butler. Paul and Butler will play in this one, and that should make a big difference. But the Timberwolves are not to be taken lightly, and it will take a solid effort to beat them. Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan need to have big games and hold their own against Minnesota's bigs, Love and the emerging Nikola Pekovic.

The Antagonist:

The Timberwolves were 17-17 at the All Star break -- they won 17 games all of last season. If you think the Clippers have turned things around, it's nothing compared to Minnesota. Kevin Love was a one man show for the T-Wolves last year, but this year he's got some help. Two lottery picks joined the team -- Ricky Rubio, the fifth pick in 2009 and Derrick Williams, the second pick from 2011 -- and they've had an impact, particularly Rubio. But not to be overlooked is the emergence of Nikola Pekovic, a second round pick from 2008 coming into his own in his second season in the league. Since Darko Milicic suffered an abdominal strain at the beginning of February, Pekovic has become the starting center, and he's averaged better than 17 points and 10 rebounds while shooting 57% from the field in February. The guy is a beast at 6'11" and 290, and he's very effective around the basket. The other major upgrade for the Wolves comes from the sidelines, where Rick Adelman has taken over as head coach. From Sacramento, to Houston and now to Minnesota, Adelman's teams have won games, frequently without great personnel. Adelman's teams always move the ball well and score efficiently, and it's no surprise that the Wolves have improved from 24th in the NBA in offensive efficiency last season to 15th this season. The improvement on the defensive end has been even more impressive, as they've moved from 27th to 13th. The Wolves have won 4 of this last 5 games coming into LA, with the lone loss coming in overtime. They are just one game out of the eighth position in the Western Conference at present, with plenty of headroom to continue getting better.

The Subplots

  • Wolves Q&A. In anticipation of this game, I asked Tim Allen of SBNation Timberwolves blog Canis Hoopus some questions. [Note by Steve Perrin, 02/28/12 11:42 AM PST ] My answers to Tim's questions are here.
  • Wolves Key Metrics:
    Pace: 93.6 (6th of 30 NBA teams)
    Off Rtg: 103.1 (15th of 30)
    Def Rtg: 101.9 (13th of 30)
    The Wolves are an average team on offense, and a wee bit better than average on defense. Hence their pretty average, 17-17 record. They still play at a fast pace, though a little bit slower under Adelman than last season (they were first in pace last season).
  • Clippers Key Metrics:
    Pace: 89.8 (23rd of 30)
    Off Rtg: 107.9 (4th of 30)
    Def Rtg: 105.0 (20th of 30)
  • Griffin and Love, All Star pals. Did anyone else notice Griffin and Love, goofing around and giggling in the background as David Stern was announcing Kevin Durant as the winner of the All Star Game MVP Sunday? They were whispering things to each other, covering their mouth with the hands so no one at home could read their lips, grinning ear to ear and generally cracking each other up. They were the bad kids in the back of the classroom. I half expected Stern to make them stay after and pound erasers. Buddy-buddy time is over tonight though.
  • Griffin and Love, rivals. There are three players in the NBA who are currently averaging 20 or more points and 10 or more rebounds per game, and Blake Griffin and Kevin Love are two of them. (The third is Dwight Howard.) Love may be more productive, but Griffin is more efficient from the field, making almost 54% of his shots compared to less than 45% for Love. But Love's three point shooting and (especially) Blake's poor free throw shooting actually give Love a better true shooting percentage.
  • Kevin Love, three point champ. Love has added an effective three point shot to his arsenal, but we probably shouldn't read too much into his All Star Saturday win in the Three Point Contest. He's still just 35% on the season. Still, his prowess makes him unique in the league. There are plenty of 'stretch' fours around who play power forward and shoot threes. But none of them are elite rebounders, or even particularly good rebounders for that matter. Five players take at least three three-pointers and get at least 8 rebounds per 36 minutes -- but Love gets 12.6 rebounds per 36, which is almost 4 rebounds more than any other 'stretch' four. Of course, this all raises an interesting philosophical question; Love was a top five offensive rebounder his first three seasons in the NBA -- do you really want him standing at the three point line taking a shot that's got a 35% chance of going in when he'd have about a 14% chance of getting the rebound if he were close to the basket? Indeed, Love's offensive rebound rate is down considerably this season. In the Q&A, Tim mentions how McHale and Rambis told Love not to shoot threes -- I'm not sure that's bad advice, All Star Weekend notwithstanding.
  • Love on historic pace. Love's averages (25 and 14) are just ridiculous. Only nine players in the history of the NBA have ever done that for an entire season, and all nine of them are in the Hall of Fame. Among the players that never averaged 25/14 for a season: David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O'Neal, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Tim Duncan. You get the idea. No one has done it in 30 years, not since Moses Malone in 1982.
  • He's Ba-ack! When these teams met in January, noted Clipper killer J.J. Barea did not play because of an injury. He'll be in the lineup today, so be afraid. Be very afraid. We'll see if his magical powers over the Clippers extend to another uniform. Barea has been a nice spark off the bench for Minnesota, averaging almost 11 points in just over 20 minutes per game. However, he is shooting less than 39% on the season.
  • Love and Rubio. The paradox of the Minnesota win over LA back in January is that neither of their marquee players, Love and Rubio, played well. Love was just 5 for 16, and Rubio had his worst shooting night as an NBA player, going just 1 for 11. However, the each hit huge shots when it counted -- Rubio's only basket of the evening was a three to tie the score with 20 seconds left, after which Love hit the game winner. So the Clippers are adding Paul and Butler to the mix, but at the same time they can't expect Love and Rubio to be as bad as they were last time.
  • The 2009 NBA Draft. The 2009 Draft has produced the last two NBA Rookies of the Year. Could it produce its 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. As it stands now, Rubio will have to come on strong in the second half of the season to overtake the frontrunner, 2011 first overall pick Kyrie Irving.
  • 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 suddenly battling for a playoff spot, it's looking more like that pick could wind up being in the very late lottery at best. Not the windfall the Hornets were hoping for with the pick. 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.
  • 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.
  • DeAndre versus Pekovic. DeAndre needs to hold his own against Pekovic tonight. I haven't seen Pekovic very much, but he seems to be an old school big. Not particularly long, not athletic. But he's got good hands, he's strong as an ox, and he has plenty of moves around the basket. It could be a very difficult match up for DJ.
  • From the Urban Dictionary:

    wolf

    v. To quickly consume

    He wolfed down his food.
  • Get the Timberwolves perspective at Canis Hoopus.
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