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Clippers at Minnesota - Game Preview

2009/2010 NBA Regular Season
Target Center
January 29th, 2010, 5:00 PM
Prime Ticket, 980 AM
Probable starters:
Baron Davis?
PG Jonny Flynn
Eric Gordon
SG Corey Brewer
Rasual Butler
SF Damien Wilkins
Marcus Camby?
PF Kevin Love
Chris Kaman?
C Al Jefferson

The Back Story:

November 2nd in LA - Clippers 93, Minnesota 90 - Recap  Box Score

November 23rd in LA - Clippers 91, Minnesota 87 - Recap  Box Score

December 16th in Minneapolis - Clippers 120, Minnesota 95 - Recap  Box Score

The Big Picture:

Oh baby, am I nervous about this game.  The Clippers are coming off an embarrassing loss to the worst team in the league.  Next up?  The second worst team in the league, which makes for a tricky situation.  If they win, they were supposed to win.  But if they lose, it's a disaster.  As it happens, no team in the NBA has lost to both the Nets and the Wolves this season.  Not one.  If the Clippers can manage to do it in consecutive games, it would be quite a feat.  Did I mention that three starters are questionable for the game?  Chris Kaman (ankle), Marcus Camby (ribs) and Baron Davis (knee) are all banged.  Of course, we don't really know how bad the injuries are.  But would any of us be surprised if one or more of these veteran players decided to take the night off in Minnesota, seeing the writing on the wall of another lost season?  The Clippers are going for the 4-0 sweep of the season series tonight, something they haven't accomplished against any team in a very long time.  The last time the faced the Wolves was one of LA's best road performances of the season.  They maintained a double digit lead the entire second half en route to a 25 point lead behind 25 from Eric Gordon, 23 from Kaman, and 21 from Rasual Butler.  The Clippers need to win this game in similar fashion.  A loss to this team at this time would probably send the team into a tailspin (that is, if it's not already in one).

The Antagonist:

If the Nets weren't around this season, everybody would be talking about how bad the T-Wolves are.  After winning their very first game of the season way back in October, they won one game in the entire month of November.  Then they got red hot, and won five games in December.  But January has been almost as dismal as they started - they've only won 2 of their last 16 games.  If course they've also been on the road a lot in January, and they are returning from a road trip to face the Clippers.  As we saw in New Jersey, sometimes a team can get pretty pumped for their first game back after a long road trip.  And don't think the Wolves players didn't see that Wednesday result and say to themselves, "Hey, if the Nets can beat this team then so can we."  Looking at the roster, it's really no surprise that the Wolves have the worst record in the Western Conference.  Al Jefferson is a very good player, having a down year after coming back from ACL surgery.  Kevin Love is a good player, who is still quite young - he'll be Eric Gordon's teammate on the Sophomore team in the Rookie Challenge at All Star Weekend.  I'm frankly not sold on anyone else.  Rookie Jonny Flynn will also play in the Rookie Challenge, but I don't really see much there.  He's a scoring point guard who's shooting 42% from the field, and gets barely 4 assists per game with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.45.  (By way of comparison, both starting power forwards tonight have better assist-to-turnover ratios than Flynn.)  No one else on the roster is particularly interesting.  Nonetheless, the Wolves have been competitive at home lately.  In their last five home games, they have two wins, two two point losses, and a six point loss.  It's not much, but it's something.  And it certainly could be enough to beat the Clippers.

The Subplots:

  • Pace paradox.  The Wolves play at the fourth fastest pace in the league - which seems a little strange, given that their leading scorer and best player, Al Jefferson, is not exactly fleet of foot.  I think new head coach Kurt Rambis just realizes that he doesn't have a lot of weapons, so he knows that he has to look for transtition scores.  But here's the weird thing: they are 25th in the league in points per game.  Usually, if you run up and down the floor enough, you can put points on the board.  Golden State is first in pace and second in scoring, despite being a very bad team and having only 13 wins.  It's hard to imagine top five in the league in pace, and bottom five in the league in scoring.  That's some bad basketball.  Tom Haberstroh of HoopData wrote a nice post about pace just yesterday.
  • Clipperwolves.  Sebastian Telfair and Craig Smith were traded from Minnesota to LA this summer.  Bobby Brown was a Timberwolf last season, then went to New Orleans, before being traded to LA on Tuesday.  Telfair is of course injured and sitting in LA but Smith and Brown could have huge roles in this game against their former team.  With both front court starters questionable, Smith could end up starting and/or playing long minutes.  Likewise Bobby Brown could conceivably end up in the starting lineup in only his second game as a Clipper because of Baron Davis' knee tendinitis.  Brown scored 8 fourth quarter points in New Jersey Wednesday and seemed to give the team a brief boost.
  • Kaman.  If Kaman plays, there's really no reason he shouldn't have a big game against the size-challenged Wolves.  Neither Jefferson nor Love are exactly long, and neither is considered a particularly good low post defender. 
  • Al Thornton. Thornton is something of a forgotten man on the Clippers right now.  In the second meeting of the season between these teams, Thornton scored a season-high 31 points to lead the Clippers.  Wednesday night in New Jersey, he played only 7 minutes.
  • Baron.  Baron Davis has never been a great percentage shooter.  Although he's been better this season than he was last season, he's back down below 40% now, and he's really struggled shooting the ball lately.  But he's been particularly bad against the Wolves, making only 9 of 37 shots for 24%.  It doesn't seem to make a lot of sense.  One would expect that he'd post up the diminutive Jonny Flynn and get some easy buckets, but clearly it hasn't worked out that way so far.  Fortunately, the Clippers have been able to overcome his sub-par performances and get three wins against the Wolves.  If he plays tonight, it would be nice to see Baron play well.
  • TV Quote: 

    Grandpa: Have you ever read "The Boy Who Cried Wolf"?
    Bart: I glanced at it. Boy cries wolf, has a few laughs... I forget how it ends.

    The Simpsons, "Marge Gets a Job" (1992).  I forget how it ends.  That's so funny.
  • Get the Wolves perspective at Canis Hoopus.