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Clippers-Timberwolves Preview: Taking On the Young Pups

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The Clippers return home after the first 6-win road trip in franchise history. Did the time away from Los Angeles fix what ailed them?

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

2014/2015 NBA Regular Season
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vs
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11-5

4-11
December 1, 2014, 7:30 PM
STAPLES Center
Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Win-Loss Breakdown
4-1 East 3-4
7-4 West 1-7
4-3 Home 3-4
7-2 Road 2-6
4-5 .500+ 0-9
7-0 .500- 3-2
7-3 L10 2-8
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Mo Williams
J.J. Redick SG Corey Brewer
Matt Barnes SF Andrew Wiggins
Blake Griffin PF Thaddeus Young
DeAndre Jordan C Gorgui Dieng
Advanced Stats
95.4 (17th of 30) Pace 98.7 (6th of 30)
108.8 (3rd of 30) ORtg 101.5 (23rd of 30)
103.7 (15th of 30) DRtg 111.4 (29th of 30)
Injuries/Other
Chris Douglas-Roberts (Achilles) out
Ricky Rubio (Ankle) out


Kevin Martin (Wrist) out


Nikola Pekovic (Wrist) out


Ronny Turiaf (Hip) out

The Back Story (The Clippers won last year's season series 4-0):

Date Venue Final

11/11/13 Los Angeles Clippers 109, Timberwolves 107 Recap Box
11/20/13 Minneapolis Clippers 102, Timberwolves 98 Recap Box
12/22/13 Los Angeles Clippers 120, Timberwolves 116, OT Recap Box
3/31/14 Minneapolis Clippers 114, Timberwolves 104 Recap Box

The Big Picture:

Look at the records above and you'll see that the Clippers are just 4-3 at home but a perfect 7-0 against teams under .500. The 2014-2015 edition of the Clippers has been guilty of playing down to its competition, and Saturday night was hardly different, as the Clippers seized an early lead before coasting to the finish, letting the Jazz have a one-sided run or two to add some drama obscured by the game's final score. Still missing is the ruthlessness of the halcyon days of recent seasons, when the bench could augment a lead rather than let it wither away. This team has too much firepower to succumb to the league's lesser clubs, but expect some tense moments tonight before the Clippers put the young Wolves to bed.

The Antagonist:

Youth and injuries. Injuries and youth. Either way you choose to put it, these are the two themes inextricably entwined with the plot of the 2014-2015 Timberwolves. After trading franchise cornerstone Kevin Love to Cleveland in August, the Minnesota club found itself without an identity and without the opportunity to define one, as injuries (and the passing of Thaddeus Young's mother) have already forced the Wolves to pencil 11 different players into their starting lineups so far. Andrew Wiggins, the 19-year-old rookie with the 9.6 PER, is the only player to have started each of Minnesota's 15 games. Entering tonight's fixture, nine different Wolves are averaging at least 20 minutes per game. It's a mix-and-match game as Flip Saunders attempts to build a winning hand as the deck gets reshuffled weekly. Missing are starters Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, and Nikola Pekovic, as well as reserve Ronny Turiaf. Playing for the second consecutive night, traveling from Portland, and dealing with the fatigue generated by such things, Flip's Wolves find the deck stacked against them tonight.

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics. The Wolves are 29th in the NBA in point differential, worsted only by a Philadelphia team that surpasses all negative adjectives. Not coincidentally, the Wolves are 29th in defensive efficiency, allowing more than 111 points per 100 possessions. On the flip side (not the Flip side), the Clippers are inching toward the top of the offensive table, finding themselves in 3rd with nearly 109 points per 100 possessions. It's fair to assume that the Clippers will manage around 110 points per 100 possessions tonight. It's nice when math works out so cleanly.
  • The Questionable Blogger. Canis Hoopus' Eric from Madison answered my questions about the Timberwolves, which you can read here. For my responses to his Clippers questions, go here.
  • The schedule. The Clippers just played five road games in seven nights and, somewhat amazingly, won four of them. The schedule lets up as the Clippers get the Orlando cupcake on Wednesday and two full days off before Saturday night's game against New Orleans. As mentioned above, Minnesota is playing the second night of a road back-to-back, a killer in the NBA. Even worse for the Wolves, they were here at STAPLES Center for a Friday night victory against the Lakers, then had to fly up to Portland for a Sunday night game before returning to face the Clippers.
  • Shooting. As Steve noted in his Saturday night recap of the Clippers' win in Utah, 10 of Blake Griffin's 18 field goal attempts were jump shots. He shot well, but his shot selection is at the center of one of Clips Nation's hottest debates. Blake will likely see heavy minutes against the perimeter-oriented Thaddeus Young and his willingness to fight for shots in the paint could be a primary indicator of the Clippers' offensive success tonight.
  • More shooting. In yesterday's piece on the Clippers' three-point shooting, Steve noted that the team has won 45 of its last 47 regular season games when making at least nine three-pointers. Minnesota has allowed fewer than 20 three-point attempts per game, the 7th stingiest mark in the NBA. However, Minnesota has allowed opponents to convert an absurd 42.2% of those long attempts, worst in the league by more than 2%. Given that the Wolves are allowing a league-worst 51% shooting overall, I suspect that their generosity inside the arc keeps teams from firing away from deep. Expect the Clippers to get good looks tonight, inside or out.
  • O Canada. Minneapolis is situated just a few hours from the Canadian border, so perhaps its natural that the Wolves acquired Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett, each of whom has a chance to be Canada's next great basketball player -- my other choice would be Sim Bhullar. I'm sure you knew about Wiggins and Bennett, but I'll bet you didn't know that the Wolves had rostered a third Canadian, Brady Heslip, before waiving him in October. Flip must think that Canadians will be more amenable to snowy Minnesota than other additions like, say, Zach LaVine.
  • Zach LaVine. Speaking of Minnesota's most excited Bruin, LaVine tallied 28 points and 5 assists in just 25 minutes against the Lakers on Friday. With both Ricky Rubio and Kevin Martin absent for several more weeks, the springy LaVine should continue to get plentiful minutes and a chance to refine his raw game in meaningful game action.
  • UCLA. Speaking of the Bruins, tonight's matchup is less Bruin-centric than some of last season's games, but the Clippers and Wolves still have four UCLA alumni between them (Matt Barnes, Jordan Farmar, Shabazz Muhammed, who poured in 28 against Portland last night, and the aforementioned LaVine). Flip Saunders isn't connected with UCLA, but he did blast current head coach Steve Alford for giving minutes to his son, Bryce Alford, that should have gone to LaVine.
  • Sons of coaches. Speaking of nepotism, Minnesota's coaching staff includes Ryan Saunders, son of Flip, and David Adelman, son of the retired Rick.
  • Connections. Playing for the Wolves are former Clippers Mo Williams and Ronny Turiaf, Turiaf in particular being a useful player I was sad to see leave... Current Clippers Assistant Coach Sam Cassell played two seasons in Minnesota, helping Kevin Garnett and the Wolves to the 2004 Western Conference Finals... Last season, Spencer Hawes played with Thaddeus Young in Philadelphia and with Anthony Bennett in Cleveland... On April 3, 2006, Jordan Farmar's UCLA Bruins lost to Corey Brewer's Florida Gators in the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship game... Minnesota's Chase Budinger, Kevin Martin, and the newly signed Jeff Adrien all played for the Rockets in DeAndre's hometown of Houston... Perhaps most importantly, Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor was specifically mentioned by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver as having played a key role in the removal of despised despot Donald Sterling. Hooray, Glen... As always, I'm sure I missed some, so let me hear it in the comments.
  • Wikipedia entry: "The C14 Timberwolf MRSWS (Medium Range Sniper Weapon System) is a bolt action sniper rifle built by the Canadian arms company PGW Defence Technologies Inc. In 2005 they won the contract to supply the Canadian Forces Land Command with the C14 Timberwolf MRSWS for $4.5 million." In a post filled with shooting and Canadians, I worked both into this Wikipedia entry. Hooray, me!