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Los Angeles Clippers vs. Minnesota Timberwolves - Game Preview

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2010/2011 NBA Regular Season

Staples Center
January 19th, 2011, 7:30 PM
FSN Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM
Probable starters:
Baron Davis
PG Luke Ridnour
Eric Gordon SG Corey Brewer
Ryan Gomes
SF Michael Beasley
Blake Griffin
PF Kevin Love
DeAndre Jordan
C Darko Milicic

The Back Story:

The Big Picture:

The Clippers have won 5 of 6 and 10 of 14 heading into tonight's game against the Timberwolves. They've won 5 straight at home, and the Wolves have a 2-20 road record. Can you say trap? This is exactly the type of game where the Mike Dunleavy Clippers would lose focus and come up completely flat. It remains to be seen how the Vinny Del Negro Clippers respond. If the Clippers are going to make a run at 41 wins this season, it goes without saying that they can't afford to lose at home to a team with 10 wins. The Clippers and Wolves have split their first two meetings this season, with Minnesota pulling out a two point victory on the last possession in Minnesota, followed by the Clippers getting their most lopsided victory of the year a month ago. Eric Gordon has scored 30 and 36 in two games against Minnesota this season, and has scored between 23 and 30 in his last six games, so he's a candidate to have a big game tonight. Then there's this kid Griffin - how will he follow up his Clipper rookie record and NBA season high 47 point performance against Indiana? With a game in Portland looming tomorrow night, it would be great to take care of the Timberwolves early and get some rest.

The Antagonist:

The Timberwolves haven't played terribly since we last saw them against the Clippers a month ago. They've been close in a lot of games, but just can't seem to figure out how to close out wins. Sound familiar? The Wolves are indeed a lot like the Clippers - they're young, they have two young stars playing incredibly well, and they've been known to open up big leads only to squander them. The only thing more amazing in this young NBA season that Blake Griffin's 27 consecutive double doubles, is Kevin Love's 28 straight. Griffin's break out season is remarkable - but the fact that Love is having this season after having difficulty cracking the starting lineup his first two seasons in Minnesota, is just crazy. Love is averaging over 21 points and almost 16 rebounds per game, which leads the league by a wide margin. He's also made 59 out of 133 three point field goals this season. His PER of 24.1 is the seventh best in the NBA. He's flat out having a monster season. Meanwhile, Miami refugee Michael Beasley is also averaging over 20 points per game for the Wolves. Unfortunately, Love and Beasley aren't getting a ton of help from their teammates. Luke Ridnour is a solid if unspectacular point guard, but when you start talking about Ridnour and Darko Milicic as the best of the supporting cast, you know the team has trouble.

The Subplots

  • .500 at home. A win tonight would move the Clippers to 13-13 at home this season. A .500 record at home is no great accomplishment - 12 of 15 Western Conference teams are better than .500 at home this season. But it's a milestone, and considering that the team began the season with only one win in their first seven home games, it would mark a pretty remarkable turnaround.
  • Testing the All Star Game voters. A month ago, I wasn't sure what to think of the situation at forward for the Western Conference All Star team. It was hard to imagine the coaches putting two forwards from losing teams on the squad, no matter how well Griffin and Love were playing. A month later, Griffin and Love are playing even better, and it seems inevitable that they'll both make the team. The Nuggets could help out a LOT by just going ahead a trading Carmelo Anthony to the Eastern Conference - he's really the one that doesn't belong on the team anyway, but the silly fans seem determined to stick him on there. If Anthony is gone, and with Yao Ming injured, the coaches can use one or more center spots for guys like Pau Gasol and Tim Duncan, and still find room on the roster for both Griffin and Love. I think Griffin is a lock at this point - the game is in LA, the Clippers are actually playing pretty well, and Blake is only the most exciting player in the league at this moment; I think Love deserves to be there as well, ahead of guys like LaMarcus Aldridge and Zach Randolph and David West and Paul Millsap (two l's one p).
  • Pet peeve. One thing that really drives me crazy is when guys on TV or the radio say who they think should be on the All Star team, but decline to say who should NOT be on the All Star team. It would be great to make everyone an All Star, but there are only 12 spots, and at most 8 of those for bigs - but figure 7 or maybe just 6, since there are some great guards in the Western Conference also. So if the question is "Does Kevin Love deserve to be an All Star?" you can't just say yes. You have to say that he gets in ahead of, say, Aldridge. That will be a real test for the voters. Will they put a representative from the Timberwolves on the team, and not have a Blazer on the team? Will they pick Love over Monta Ellis with a wild card spot? Someone is going to be snubbed, and most years it's the guy having a great season for a bad team.
  • Scoring help. When these two teams met about a month ago, I asked in the preview who was going to step up to help the two big scorers for the respective teams. Surprisingly, Ryan Gomes went out and had his first double double as a Clipper and went for 22/10 against his former team. Not surprisingly, the Clippers won. It would be great if Gordon and Griffin outduel Beasley and Love, but the game will more than likely be decided by the other guys on the floor. The Clippers have a decided advantage there.
  • Gomes. That good game against the Timberwolves notwithstanding, Ryan Gomes has been pretty lackluster for the Clippers this season. In fact, he's been the second worst regular starter in the league according to PER. Among NBA players who have started at least 20 games this season, only Keith Bogans of the Bulls (a headscratcher in that starting lineup to be sure) has a worse PER than Gomes' 8.7. Gomes has played some good defense against some good players, and doesn't do a lot to hurt the team out there. But he needs to be more aggressive on the offensive end when he's in the game - he's much more effective when he's not hesitant to shoot.
  • Wesley Johnson. On that same list of ineffective starters, you'll find Timberwolves rookie Wesley Johnson at number 7 with a PER of 9.6. Johnson has started 35 of Minnesota's 42 games this season, but that all came crashing down in the last game - Johnson went from starter to a DNP-CD, the first of his career.
  • Lottery picks. In the past two seasons, the Wolves have had three lottery picks. I'll let this tweet from the SBNation Wolves Blog Canis Hoopus sum up how that's going: "Wes Johnson, DNP-CD; Jonny Flynn, 15 min, 2 points; Ricky Rubio, tanning. What an awesome use of top lotto picks." If this keeps up, the Wolves lottery pick in 2012 will be very high, and will belong to the Clippers. But at least David Kahn won't screw it up, Wolves fans.
  • Flynn. Jonny Flynn had an intriguing rookie season last year in Minnesota. He was fifth among rookies in scoring at 13.5 a game, and although he wasn't particularly efficient, that's not surprising for a rookie point guard on a bad team. But since returning from off season hip injury, Flynn has been absolutely awful. He's played 17 games backing up Ridnour, and is averaging 4 points and 2 assists. He's shooting 32% on the season, and 23% in January. He's not getting any better either. He's just 4 for 24 in his last 4 games. Yikes.
  • Slumping Wolves. The Timberwolves have lost seven of their last eight. At the same time though, they've been competitive lately. They haven't lost by more than 11 points in their last 13 games. As it happens, the last team to blow them out was the Clippers.
  • 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 pick 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.
  • 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?
  • Superstar for one game: Jonny Flynn. Since I bothered to point out how poorly Flynn has been playing, I probably let loose the reverse mojo.
  • Famous Quotation:

    A strong tiger is no match for a pack of wolves.

    Chinese proverb.
  • Get the Timberwolves perspective at Canis Hoopus.