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Clippers-Timberwolves preview: Three and oh on the trip?

The Clippers are looking to conclude a perfect three and oh road trip with a win in Minnesota tonight. They'll likely be without Chris Paul again, who is taking his time coming back from a knee contusion suffered Saturday.

2012/2013 NBA Regular Season

January 17th, 2013, 5:00 PM
Target Center
TNT, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Clippers Tickets
Probable Starters
Eric Bledsoe PG Luke Ridnour
Willie Green SG Alexey Shved
Caron Butler SF Andrei Kirilenko
Blake Griffin PF Dante Cunningham
DeAndre Jordan C Nikola Pekovic
Advanced Stats through Jan. 16
91.9 (10th of 30) Pace 92.0 (9th of 30)
110.8 (4th of 30) ORtg 103.2 (21st of 30)
101.2 (4th of 30) DRtg 104.9 (12th of 30)
Chris Paul (knee) GTD
Kevin Love (hand surgery) out
Chauncey Billups (ankle) out
Chase Budinger (knee surgery) out
Trey Thompkins (knee) out
Brandon Roy (knee surgery) out

Malcolm Lee (knee surgery) out

The Back Story:

The Big Picture:

The last time the Clippers faced the Wolves they were in the throes of a four game losing streak, and the fourth loss was by far the worst -- a disheartening home defeat at the hands of the lowly Hornets. That was late November, and the Clippers subsequent win over Minnesota launched them on their historic 17 game winning streak. It was an inauspicious debut for the streak -- easily the Clippers worst game of the 17 -- but a win is a win. It wasn't that long ago, just last Saturday, that the Clippers experienced another bad home loss, this time to Orlando. But they've already responded in grand fashion with back-to-back road wins in Memphis and Houston. And they did it without Chris Paul, who missed both games with a sore knee suffered near the end of the Orlando game. Paul is officially listed as day-to-day, but frankly I'd be shocked if he played tonight. There's no reason to rush him back as the team is playing well with Eric Bledsoe at the helm, and Minnesota is something of a shambles right now, so the Clippers don't need Paul to get a win. That's not to say a win is guaranteed -- there are never any guarantees, with or without Paul -- but the Clippers certainly have the horses to win this game without CP3 the way Bledsoe has stepped up, along with Blake Griffin and that always amazing bench.

The Antagonist:

Poor Timberwolves. Every season there's at least one team you really have to feel sorry for. Usually it's the Trail Blazers. Come to think of it, maybe it's whatever team Brandon Roy is on. Maybe Brandon Roy is a cooler. Anyway, I got a little tired of writing "surgery" in Minnesota's injury report. They have three guys who have had knee surgery this year, and their mega-star Kevin Love just reinjured the hand he broke in pre-season, requiring another surgery. Love missed the first two weeks of the season, rushed back after surgery, shot terribly in the 18 games he played, and is now out for at least two months. And as if that weren't enough, their terrific coach Rick Adelman has been away from the team for the past five games to be with his hospitalized wife. Before this maelstrom of bad luck, the Wolves appeared to be well-positioned to make a run at one of the lower tier playoff berths in the Western Conference. After all, they were hanging around the race even with Love and Ricky Rubio still rounding into shape after injuries. But now, with Love likely out until at least mid-March, there would seem to be no way -- not in the West, where the Jazz, Rockets, Blazers, Lakers and maybe even the resurgent Mavs will be fighting for the last two playoff spots. The shame of it is that their Russian free agents, Andei Kirilenko and Alexey Shved, have been great signings, and Nikola Pekovic is turning into a beast of a center. But with all the injuries, they just don't have enough horses. Poor Wolves.

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics. The Clippers and Wolves play at an almost identical pace on the season, although, if Chris Paul is out the Clippers will play faster with Bledsoe, and the Wolves might have to play faster in order to score with so many key guys missing -- so it might be a pretty fast-paced game.
  • Adelman not with team. Rick Adelman is one of the few coaches in the NBA I consider a difference maker. Look at the Sacramento Kings franchise page on basketball-reference: eight seasons with Adelman as coach, eight seasons of winning records and playoff appearance -- and not a single other winning record in 27 seasons in Sacramento. His Houston teams overachieved and fought through adversity, and he got the Wolves to respectability sooner than anyone imagined. Unfortunately, he's had a terrible run of bad luck since leaving the Kings, losing multiple franchise players (Yao and TMac in Houston, Rubio and Love in Minnesota) in his last two coaching gigs. We may get a glimpse of how a much a bench coach matters tonight. Adelman is one of the best in the business, while Terry Porter, who has taken the reins in his absence, was so unpopular in Phoenix that the ultimate team player Steve Nash was in open revolt against him.
  • Injuries suck. Clipper fans know all too well the pain of seeing a promising season lost to injuries. For all the talk of playing through them, of having enough depth to withstand them (and Adelman did that better than anyone in Houston) the simple fact is that injuries matter. The most successful teams in any one season are, by and large, not just relatively healthy, but very healthy.
  • Wolves reeling. The Wolves have lost four straight and 10 of their last 14. They are 1-5 since losing Love for the second time. Their recent four game road trip ended in four double digit losses.
  • Unimpressive in November. The Clippers lost three games to Minnesota last season and were far from impressive against them when they met in late November. This seems to be a very different Clippers team at this point, so hopefully they'll put their stamp on this game, but I still have a slight uneasiness about Minnesota, even without Love on the court. Derrick Williams and J.J. Barea still scare me for some reason.
  • TNT game. I'm beginning to lose track. I'm saying the Clippers are now 9-1 in games on ESPN or TNT. As it happens, in their last national TV outing, eight days ago on ESPN, they had a lackluster performance against Dallas, which has not been typical of the energy they've typically shown on the networks. But hopefully the TNT cameras (and a chance to finally convince Charles Barkley) will get them going tonight. Two more things on this: if you're like me and you have a season pass set up on your DVR for Prime Ticket, make sure that you record this game since it's exclusively on TNT and you may not be home for the 5 PM Pacific tip off. Also, the All Star starters will be announced during the broadcast, where we'll find out that Chris Paul and Blake Griffin will be starting for the West for the second straight year. (My guess is it's no accident that this game wound up on TNT on this date -- when they made the schedule they were hoping for some Love-or-Griffin suspense in the ASG voting, but Love's injuries and poor play made it all very unsuspenseful indeed.)
  • No Love, who guards Griffin? With Love out, the Wolves have been starting Dante Cunningham at power forward, backed up by second year pro Derrick Williams. Trouble is, both of them are tweeners, and don't really have the size to contend with Griffin. Kirilenko is a monster defender who has played plenty of four in his day -- my guess is he'll draw Griffin to start the game.
  • Who guards Crawford? Prime Ticket broadcaster Mike Smith deserves props for correctly identifying that Houston had no perimeter defenders who could handle Jamal Crawford, and indeed JCrossover had a big game scoring a season-high 30 against the Rockets. This looks like a similar situation in the making. What perimeter defender for the Wolves is going to be able to contend with Crawford, assuming they don't throw AK47 at him? Rookie Shved? I haven't seen Rubio since his second game back, so it's hard to know how his lateral movement is, but he may be the only hope of slowing down Jamal.
  • Pacific Division. With Golden State going through a very difficult stretch in their schedule and doing very poorly in it, the Clippers' lead in the Pacific Division over the Warriors is up to six games. Their lead over the Lakers stands at 12.5, and could increase tonight when the Lakers play the Heat in the second game of the TNT double-header. Not bad.
  • 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. Shved has struggled to make shots but has found other ways to contribute in his rookie season. My theory is that the Minneapolis weather reminds them of Moscow.
  • Love. In the past, the Clippers have sometimes 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 a bad thing that Kevin Love is out for the Wolves. 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, so it probably is a good thing.
  • Derrick Williams. In the second meeting between the Wolves and Clippers last season, it wasn't 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 to Phoenix, but Williams will be called upon to contribute in Love's absence.
  • Butler's foot. Caron Butler apparently strained his foot in the win over Houston. He had an X-ray which was negative, and of course Tuff Juice is planning to play tonight.
  • Connections. Chauncey Billups resurrected his lottery-bust-track career in Minnesota, where he took over the starting job for an injured Terrell Brandon over a decade ago. From there he signed a free agent deal in Detroit and became Mr. Big Shot. Ryan Hollins spent a season in Minnesota during Love's second year in the league. Fun fact -- Hollins got more starts that year (27) than Love did (22). And in the reach department, the Wolves briefly signed Will Conroy earlier this season -- he played four games for the Wolves this year, six seasons after playing four games with the Clippers in 06-07. Conroy has an NBA career spanning six years, four teams, 16 games -- and 108 total NBA minutes.
  • Get the Timberwolves perspective at Canis Hoopus.
  • Lyrical reference:

    E-Pro -- Beck

    See me kickin the door with my boots
    Broke down out in a ditch of old rubbish
    Snakes and bones in the back of your room
    Handing out a confection of venom
    Heaven's drunk from the poison you use
    Charm the wolves with the eyes of a gambler
    Now I see it's a comfort to you
    Hammer my bones on the anvil of daylight

    Guero isn't may favorite Beck album, but it's still awfully damn good, and this song provided a solid lead in for the album with its Beck-y "na-na-na-na-na-na-na" refrain over grungey guitar.