|2010/2011 NBA Regular Season
|December 20th, 2010, 7:30 PM
|FSN Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM
The Back Story:
The Big Picture:
The Clippers left on their three game road trip last week without a road win on the season. After a bad loss in Philadelphia in which they disappeared in the second half, they managed to close the trip with two straight wins - a resounding victory in Detroit, and a nail-biter in Chicago. As a result, the Clippers return home with some momentum. What's different? The big difference is that in the last two games, the Clippers have gotten a much more balanced team effort. Eric Gordon have been consistently good for most of the season, but they've had very little help more often than not. In each of the last two games, the Clippers have had five players in double figures, and despite a mini-slump for Gordon during the trip, the rest of the team has stepped up and it has resulted in victories. In particular, the return of Baron Davis to the lineup and something approximating full health has been a huge factor for the team. Baron's ability to break down defenses and find teammates (especially Griffin) is invaluable in Vinny Del Negro's rather limited pick-and-roll heavy offense. Simply put, the Clippers need playmakers on the floor to thrive on offense, and Baron is probably their best playmaker. The team has a chance to put together a little winning streak here at home against some second tier West opponents. But we also know that they have the ability to lose to pretty much anybody.
The Timberwolves remind me a lot of the Clippers. Some incredible individual performances, compelling storylines, and potential; and simply terrible results in the win-loss column. Kevin Love has been absolutely stellar all season. His PER of 24.6 is the sixth best in the league - behind some guys like Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, ahead of Dwight Howard and Dwyane Wade and, well, most of the rest of the NBA. In other words, from a purely statistical standpoint, he's putting up numbers that aren't just All Star level, but All Pro level. Michael Beasley has been scoring like crazy, averaging over 21 points per game (a couple of tenths better than Love in fact). But the Wolves have only six wins, one fewer than the Clippers. And in contrast to the Clippers, they only have one victory over a team with a winning record (the Knicks). Tonight's game is their final stop on a six game road trip - they've lost the first five. To their credit, they have been competitive in most of the games, but can't quite find a way to win. Sound familiar? The Wolves are no doubt road weary - tonight will be their 18th road game of the season against only eleven home games. They're 1-16 on the road so far, and 1-28 stretching back to last season. Also like the Clippers, the Wolves have had some players out. They've gotten Martell Webster and Jonny Flynn back recently, but now Darko Milicic is nursing a sore ankle which may keep him out of tonight's game. It still doesn't look like the pieces fit together for the Wolves so far, but you have to admit that Love and Beasley look like some pretty nice pieces.
- A better record. In this their 29th game, the Clippers are for the first time facing a team with a worse record than they have. That's mostly because they've had the worst record in the league for the better part of the season. Still, the Clippers find themselves in unfamiliar territory, looking down in the standings at their adversary. Let's hope they don't lose focus as a result.
- Scoring help. Gordon and Griffin are averaging 23 and 21 respectively. Beasley and Love are averaging 21 a piece. After that, each team sees a significant drop off in terms of scoring. The Clippers don't have another player in uniform averaging double figures (Chris Kaman is a little above 10). The Wolves have Webster at almost 15, but he's only played 4 games this season. After that, it's Luke Ridnour at 10 even. In the first meeting between these teams, Beasley/Love combined for 57 points, while Griffin/Gordon combined for 56. Assuming those four get their points again, it may come down to the supporting casts in this game. The outcome may hinge on who steps up from among the other guys.
- Testing the All Star Game voters. For decades now, the All Star game has been as much about team record as individual performance. Love and Griffin are going to test that premise severely this winter. It's almost unheard of to select a player from a .250 team, but if the choice comes down to Love or David West of the Hornets, who would you pick? Or perhaps more to the point, if it comes down to Griffin or West, who would you rather WATCH in the All Star game? Yeah, I thought so.
- Flynn. Jonny Flynn, the sixth pick in the 2009 draft and the Wolves starting point guard all last season, returned from off-season hip surgery four games ago. Before that, he was one of the first established NBA players to go to a D-League team as a tune-up assignment. Kurt Rambis has been working him into the Wolves lineup slowly, and after playing 17 minutes in each of his first three games, he logged 24 in Saturday's loss in Denver. He may be back in the starting lineup soon. Of course, the difference is that last year they didn't have Luke Ridnour, and it's not clear that Flynn is actually more effective than Ridnour.
- Turnovers. In the first meeting, the Clippers turned the ball over 17 times, including three crucial gaffes in the final 90 seconds. The Wolves scored the last four points and grabbed a two point win on their final possession, a Beasley game-winner. If the Clippers just take care of the ball, they should beat this team.
- Gomes on Beasley. Ryan Gomes has had some pretty good defensive games this season. He'll get the initial assignment against Beasley. Beasley is a very good scorer, but if you stay up on his jump shot, and force him away from his left hand, you can limit his effectiveness. The key is to stay focused on him - don't let up, don't help off, stay on that left hand. Gomes is a bright guy, and understands scouting reports better than most NBA players. I think he'll do a good job on Beasley tonight.
- The pick. The last thing the Clippers want is for the Timberwolves to get good any time soon. Five years ago the Clippers traded Marko Jaric to the Wolves for Sam Cassell and a first round pick. It's already one of the most lopsided trades of all time, and it may get a lot more so if that picks ends up being near the top of the lottery. The pick has been top ten protected forever, and has that same protection against this year. But next year all the protections fall off, and if the Wolves continue to struggle, the Clippers could wind up with a very high draft pick in what figures to be a very strong draft (assuming a number of underclassmen decide to stay in school an extra year with an NBA lockout looming next summer). Of course, the worst case scenario would be that the Wolves suck this season, but somehow magically get good next season, and the pick ends up in the middle of the first round. The emergence of Love and Beasley as legitimate pieces to build around is great news for Wolves fans - and bad news for Clippers fans. The Wolves will probably still suck next season - but for once you can imagine that they may not.
- Historical perspective. Kevin Love and Blake Griffin are putting up numbers that put them in some very elite company. Love is currently at 21 points and almost 16 rebounds per game, easily leading the league. Griffin is approaching 21 points (a number he'll easily reach on his current trajectory) and is second in the league in rebounding at over 12 per game. In the last 40 years in the NBA, 20 players have averaged 21/12 for a season. Of those 20, 15 are either in the Hall of Fame, or will be when they finish playing (guys like Shaq and Garnett and Duncan and Howard). Only Spencer Haywood, Artis Gilmore, George McGinnis, Truck Robinson and Jeff Ruland have averaged 21/12 for a season and yet not been inducted into the Hall of Fame - and at least two of those guys should be in the Hall.
- Double double machines. Love and Griffin are 1 and 2 in the league in double doubles. Griffin has a streak of 15 straight; Love has a streak of 14 in a row.
- Monster game. Love scored a career high 43, to go with 17 rebounds, in Minny's lose in Denver Saturday. It's just one of many monster games he has put up this year. He's got five 20/20 games on the season, and among them, one 30/20 and the first 30/30 game in the NBA in almost 30 years.
- Beasley. Beasley has come back to earth a bit since the last time the Clippers and Wolves played. He was on a major roll at that time, and continued it with 33 and the game winner. But he's been below 20 in five of his last six games. In particular, he's cooled off some from the perimeter, as it seemed he would have to. In his first two seasons he shot 33% from three; he started this season making 17 of his first 35, but has gone 5 for 20 in December.
- Darko. Most people ridiculed the Wolves and GM David Kahn (KAAAAHHHHNNNNNNN!!!) for re-signing Darko to a 4/$20M contract this summer. But in the last month, Darko has been putting up big numbers. He has eight 20 point games in his eight year career - four of them have occurred in the last month. He's also had two of his three career 20/10 games this season, and he's second in the league in blocked shots per game. Is he finally coming into his own in this, his eighth season? I never really thought I'd say this, but the Wolves will miss him if he can't play tonight.
- Aminu and Johnson. The Clippers needed a small forward in the 2010 draft, and most draft boards had Wesley Johnson as the top prospect (though he was more of a wing, and is playing more shooting guard for MIN), followed by Aminu. It at first appeared to be a poor crop of small forwards, but several others emerged in workouts, and eventually six were drafted in the top 16 picks. At the time, Aminu looked like the 'potential' pick - a very high ceiling, but raw and perhaps not ready to help right away. Johnson was the opposite - a 23 year old college junior, a polished scorer, ready to help an NBA team as a rookie, but not as long or athletic as some other prospects. As it happens, Aminu has contributed much more than most people thought he could. Johnson, for his part, joined the Wolves' starting lineup after just four games and is putting up respectable rookie season numbers of 9 points and 3 rebounds but he's not exactly tearing up the league; Chief's per minute numbers and PER are actually a bit better at this point. AFA got his first DNP of the season Saturday in Chicago. Whether that means he's out of the rotation for the foreseeable future or if it was just a one time situation dictated by matchups remains to be seen. Aminu had one of his best games of his young career in the first meeting with the Wolves, scoring 17 points on 7 for 11 shooting.
- Love and Griffin. The game features two of the best young rebounders in the NBA facing off against each other. Griffin and Love no doubt know each other well - they were both in the high school class of 2007, both McDonald's All Americans, two of the most highly recruited bigs in college that year. Griffin is by far the more athletic of the two, but if he thinks he'll be able to keep Kevin Love off the glass through sheer athleticism, he can forget it. If he doesn't box out, Love will get every carom. He has a nose for the ball, great hands, and he goes after every board.
- The ClipperWolves vs. the TimberClips. The Clippers roster features three key reserves who played in Minnesota in recent years - Ryan Gomes, Craig Smith and the injured Randy Foye. The Wolves have former Clipper Sebastian Telfair currently starting at the point (Telfair went from Minny, to the Clippers, to Cleveland, back to Minny in the last year or so). Maybe these teams should try raiding players from a good team?
- U24 Team? The Clippers have started a U23 team extensively this season. The Wolves, with 21 year old Kosta Koufos starting at center for the injured Milicic (who's only 25, by the way) could start a U24 team if Rambis moves the 21 year old Flynn ahead of the 29 year old Ridnour. That lineup, which we could see together tonight, would feature four 21 year olds and a 23 year old. Ironically, the old man of the group would be the rookie, Wesley Johnson.
- Superstar for one game: Luke Ridnour. Ridnour is an underrated point guard. I worry more about what he'll do to the Clippers than I do about Flynn, but that's just me.
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.
- Get the Timberwolves perspective at Canis Hoopus.