The Back Story: (Clippers lead series 1-0)
The Big Picture:
The Clippers are coming off a frustrating loss to their dreaded rivals, the Grizzlies, a game that ruined their homestand and handed them their first home loss of the season. They'd love to bounce back with a win over the Wolves -- and let's face it, if they don't get this one, they could easily be looking at a three game losing streak since they have a VERY difficult back-to-back in Oklahoma City tomorrow night. But it certainly won't be easy. Just nine days ago the Clippers barely held on for the win in STAPLES Center, when Kevin Love's point blank tip at the final buzzer trickled off the rim. The Clippers guards were simply ghastly against Memphis -- Chris Paul, J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford combined to shoot 11-38 from the field, and one of those makes was a meaningless circus shot three pointer by Crawford (who else?) in the final seconds. Redick and Crawford had been pretty good all season, though Paul has been cold for a couple weeks now. Blake Griffin certainly is not cold. Having recorded 20/10s in four straight games, he's fresh off his selection as Western Conference Player of the Week. He could have another big game against the Wolves after going to 25/10/5 last Monday. The defense however needs to get better. We've been saying that for awhile, and pretty much is past time for some improvement there. The Wolves have one of the most potent offenses in the league, so the Clippers likely won't shut them down -- but they need to do something to slow them down or they could be looking at 7-6 before they're back home.
The poor Timberwolves just can't seem to win close games. They've lost three of their last five games -- a two point loss in L.A., a four point loss in Denver, and another four pointer in Washington last night. They say that's part of learning to be a good team -- winning close ones. The Wolves haven't made the playoffs in a decade (the longest active playoff drought in the NBA) and this group may not know what to do in close games that matter. They'll learn. There's plenty of talent, especially in the starting lineup. No two teammates in the league have scored more points this season than Kevin Love and Kevin Martin, and center Nikola Pekovic is beginning to more than earn his new contract, and with all those guys to pass to, Ricky Rubio would be leading the league in assists if it weren't for a guy named Chris Paul. The Wolves are 5-1 at home and they would dearly love to get this win after such a heartbreaking loss in L.A. last week.
- The Questionable Blogger. I spent some time chatting online with EricinMadison, editor of the Wolves blog Canis Hoopus, for this game's Questionable Blogger. Check out our wide-ranging conversation. It's the same post on CH, but you might want to see the comments section, to see what other questions they had for me.
- Comparison of key metrics. The Wolves remain statistically very good on the defensive end, which doesn't really fit with the conventional wisdom, nor with what happened in the first meeting. Of course the Clippers can score on a lot of teams. The Clippers on the other hand continue to wallow near the bottom of the league in defensive efficiency after allowing two mediocre offensive teams to score over 100 points in their last two games.
- Wolves losing the close ones. The Wolves have the fifth best scoring differential in the league at +7.3, but only the 11th best record at 11-5. That's because four of their five losses have been by four points or fewer (including last night in Washington) while they've run up several double digit margins in victories. In the long term these things tend to even out and margin of victory is a good measure of overall strength.
- Pekovic awake. Through the first seven games, Pekovic shot about 40% from the field. Then he played the Clippers, and he's been on a tear ever since. Since going 11-15 in L.A. Pekovic is 36-52 in his last five games, 69%. I guess he fits fine with Love and Rubio.
- What happened to Rubio in Washington? Speaking of Rubio, the Spaniard played just 19 minutes in Washington last night, and sat almost the entire fourth quarter of a close game. That's no way to treat one of your big two players, Rick Adelman! There's no indication that Rubio was hurting in any way -- Adelman just chose to go with J.J. Barea.
- Budinger. Wolves wing Chase Budinger, who has been injured forever, returned to practice this week. He's nowhere close to playing and won't be cleared for full contact for a while, but it's good that he's making progress. The Wolves, paper thin on the wings, could really use him.
- Robbie Hummel. Speaking of returning from injury, the guy getting the minutes on the wing for Minny right now is Robbie Hummel, who suffered at least three major injuries during his college career at
IowaPurdue, including a torn ACL in 2011. He was a second round pick in 2012 and spent last season playing in Spain, but has beaten out Minnesota's lottery pick, former UCLA Bruin Shabazz Muhammad (who currently has a sprained ankle at any rate) for a spot in the rotation in Budinger's absence.
- NBA Leaderboard. This game features players at or near the top of the league in many statistical categories. DeAndre Jordan is currently second in the league in rebounding, ahead of Love by a very slim margin, 13.45 rebounds per game to 13.42. Paul leads the league in assists, Rubio is second. Rubio leads the league in steals, Paul is second. Love is third in the league in scoring and leads the league in points/rebounds double-doubles, with Griffin close behind. Paul and Love both have 11 double-doubles, though Paul has done in it just 11 games, and in points/assists of course. Paul and Love are both in the top five in the league in PER. These teams both have players putting up numbers.
- Paul and Magic. Chris Paul tied one of Magic Johnson's records on Monday night when he recorded his 11th consecutive points/assists double-double to begin the season. Another double-double tonight will be an even dozen, and Paul will have the record all to himself. Given the likelihood of a high pace and a high score, I think it's pretty likely that Paul is going to get there.
- Paul shooting slump. For his double-double record it's fortunate that it's not that difficult to reach double figures in scoring, because Paul has certainly not been shooting well. Over the past seven games, during which the Clippers are 4-3, Paul has shot just .367 from the field and a .136 from deep. The Clippers trailed the Nets until the end, when the 1-for-10 CP3 made his last two shots. They lost to the Grizzlies as Paul went 5-14. He's getting good shots -- they're just not falling right now.
- Defending Paul. Rubio is a good defender, using his length and intelligence well to get into passing lanes and get steals. But Paul is a tough cover for him to stay in front of. How effectively Rubio can defend Paul will be a key to this game. The first game may have turned in the third quarter when Paul used a few tricks (including one that the NBA said went too far) to get Rubio into foul trouble and to get himself to the line. It should be noted that at halftime of that game, the Clippers pretty clearly felt like the Wolves had been getting away with some pushing and grabbing, so the third quarter might have just been evening things out a bit. If Adelman opts for lots of Barea again, Paul will eat the little guy up, but Clipper-killer J.J. will get plenty back on the other end.
- Griffin on Love. At this point Love's three point shooting is no secret, and Griffin knows he's got to stay close out there. Even so, he got caught cheating off or just plain napping a few times in the first meeting and Love made him pay. Love is clever, but he's not going to blow by guys, so Griffin needs to focus on him, stay close, and forget about help defense. Love can still hit a step back or a fadeaway -- the guy's good -- but you have to at least take away his open, spot up looks.
- Love on Griffin. Actually, that's one big difference between Love and Griffin right now. Love will guard the less threatening DeAndre Jordan, Adelman preferring to place Pekovic on Griffin. Love's defense ranges from OK to disinterested to abysmal at times. On the plays where he winds up on Griffin, the Clippers will go right at him and make him work on that end.
- Martin and the Clippers. A little like James Harden's struggles now, back when Kevin Martin was a top scorer for Sacramento, he always seemed to struggle against the Clippers. Indeed, his 15.2 career average in 23 games against the Clippers is almost three points off his overall average. More importantly, while Martin has always been a very efficient scorer, he has shot just 38% in his career versus the Clippers. Yikes. There's no reasonable explanation for this (not since Quentin Ross left the Clippers anyway); just one of those things.
- Another back-to-back. The Clippers catch a break, as for the second time this season they are playing a Wolves team coming off a game the day before. The last time, Minnesota was already in L.A. to play the Lakers, so travel was not a problem. This time? Minnesota had to travel over a thousand miles back to Minneapolis after a game in Washington D.C. So although the Clippers are the road team, Minnesota has an excuse to be road weary.
- Small ball is an option. You wouldn't really want to ask Jared Dudley or Matt Barnes to defend Love (who would destroy them on the glass) or Pekovic (who would abuse them in the post), but the Wolves use with Dante Cunningham or Derrick Williams as their big(s) off the bench, so the Clippers should be able to play small ball when either Love or Pek is out of the game. Rivers eschewed his backup bigs completely in the successful second half in Houston -- resorting to a seven man rotation. If Barnes is back (and assuming Dudley is a go), that can be eight. We'll see.
- Cherry picking. NBA offenses and defenses get more sophisticated all the time, but sometimes the best play is the one you learned on the playground -- leak out on the fast break and get an easy layup, aka cherry picking. The Wolves signed Corey Brewer this summer and he is one of the best in the NBA at releasing early and getting behind the defense -- he's fast and athletic and he'll run all game. Combine that with Love's vaunted outlet passes, and the Wolves are getting several easy baskets every game. Doc Rivers has been harping on transition defense -- that defense will be put to the test in this one. In the first meeting, the Clippers seemed ready for the tactic the most part. They stole a couple of Love's long passes, and the Wolves only got one cheap basket this way -- a basket that Doc was none too happy about. You can bet that if it happens again, someone is going to get an earful. There's really no reason to let this happen if you know they want to do it. One of the perimeter players has to be back on defense, period.
- Clipper killers. Derrick Williams had one of the best games of his young career against the Clippers two seasons ago, and Barea has been a notorious Clipper-killer for years. Pekovic has been killing the Clippers for a couple of seasons now. Love will probably get his, but the question is who else is going to step up to hurt the Clippers.
- Connections. Ryan Hollins spent a season in Minnesota during Love's second year in the league. Ronny Turiaf, who is currently injured for Minnesota, played with the Clippers last season. Kevin Love and Darren Collison were teammates for Love's one season at UCLA.
- Get the Minnesota perspective at Canis Hoopus.
- Shakespearean reference:
Macbeth, Act III, Scene 1 -- Macbeth
Ay, in the catalogue ye go for men;
As hounds and greyhounds, mongrels, spaniels, curs,
Shoughs, water-rugs and demi-wolves, are clept
All by the name of dogs: the valued file
Distinguishes the swift, the slow, the subtle,
The housekeeper, the hunter, every one
According to the gift which bounteous nature
Hath in him closed; whereby he does receive
Particular addition. from the bill
That writes them all alike: and so of men.
Now, if you have a station in the file,
Not i' the worst rank of manhood, say 't;
And I will put that business in your bosoms,
Whose execution takes your enemy off,
Grapples you to the heart and love of us,
Who wear our health but sickly in his life,
Which in his death were perfect.