While both teams come into the game with identical 8-8 records, they’re feeling two entirely different ways about it. Considering the injury issues that the Minnesota Timberwolves have had to deal with it, and the devastatingly unfortunate passing of Flip Saunders (#RIPFlip), the team is 8-8 with a relatively young roster playing important minutes. As it stands right now, they might actually be ahead of their rebuilding plan. And there is a reason for that.
Boy oh boy, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins are awesome. That’s been one of the best things to watch as the season has gone through its first month. Towns isn’t just averaging 14.2 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks on 52.0 percent shooting in 27.9 minutes per game. It’s the way he’s doing it. Towns makes basketball look easy. He’s shown great passing skills, a heck of a face-up jumper, post moves, and defensive aptitude that absolutely makes you wonder how old he really is. On 16-to-24 foot shots this season, Towns is shooting 50 percent. He’s averaging 0.83 points per possession on post-ups, which is on par with what Jahlil Okafor and Al Jefferson are doing this season. His rim protection is also damn good, as he’s holding opponents to 11 percent worse shooting on shots inside 6 feet than they’re normally used to. Towns is the full package. Oh, and he can knock down free throws at a prodigious 90.7 percent. Not fair.
If Towns is the full package, then Wiggins is as close as you can get to being 1B to Towns’ 1A as far as building blocks go. Wiggins is averaging 21.8 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.9 assists on 42.7 percent from the field this season, but he’s been much better as of late. Since November 7, Wiggins is averaging 24.7 points on 46.4 percent shooting. Yeah, that’s good. Wiggins does struggle with his jumper at times, and also has some issues with his dribbling, but there’s no doubting his awe-inspiring talent. He’s going to be a matchup nightmare, especially with the talent that will be surrounding him in this game. With Wiggins and Towns in place, only bright things are ahead for Minnesota.
The other part of the team that needs to be talked about is Ricky Rubio. While the Timberwolves are fresh off of a win over the Sacramento Kings without Rubio playing, that’s not something that has happened all too often since he’s been there. His 10.7 points, 8.5 assists, and 4.7 rebounds don’t talk enough about how much of an impact he has on the floor for them. Neither does his 35.9 percent shooting. If Towns and Wiggins are the future for Minnesota, Rubio is the team’s heartbeat. If he is unable to play during this meeting, then there will be a heavy dose of second-year guard Zach LaVine. Unfortunately for Minnesota, LaVine is nowhere near a capable point guard at this point in time. He’s much more suited as a shooting guard, and all the data and eye tests support that. Still, Rubio is the main man for Minnesota.
If Rubio is able to play, and if Sam Mitchell chooses to go with Tayshaun Prince for any considerable time, then a lineup featuring Rubio, Wiggins, Prince, Kevin Garnett, and Towns could give Los Angeles some fits. That lineup has played 98 minutes together this season, and they have a Net Rating of +12.0 with a 83.3 Defensive Rating. They get after you defensively and make life a living hell. That will be something to be on the watch for in this one. Minnesota generally does a good job of not fouling people, keeping them off the offensive glass, and using their smarts defensively to wear you down. Los Angeles can’t get frustrated during this game if things aren’t going smoothly all the time. Have to fight through it.
As for the Los Angeles Clippers, they head into this game not knowing what’s what in a lot of areas. Their rebounding situation is hit-and-miss, their perimeter shooting is much the same, and they defend only when they want to defend. However, in the last game against the New Orleans Pelicans, we did see a reenergized group that hustled for the better part of 48 minutes. Whenever the Pelicans made a run, they would make one right back to seize control of the game once again. That is the kind of spirit and fight fans have been clamoring for all year. In fact, that might have been the best overall game they played all season.
The Clippers, as always, are led by their established superstar duo of Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. Through 16 games this season, Griffin is averaging 25.1 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 4.5 assists on 54.7 percent from the field. Griffin’s shooting 66.2 percent inside 8 feet, 45.5 percent from 16-to-24 feet, and is averaging a hefty 0.96 points per possession in post-ups. He has rounded himself into a prodigious scorer from all areas inside the arc. His passing has been great yet again, and his individual defense has most certainly taken a step forward this season. The effort is there.
Paul is averaging 17.3 points, 8.4 assists, and 3.7 rebounds on 46.5 percent shooting this season, but it certainly feels like he’s off to a slow start. The hand injuries and groin have no doubt affected his play, so at least there is some semblance of understanding there. Paul’s shooting 47.9 percent in the mid-range this season, on top of shooting 80.0 percent inside the restricted area. He’s also raised his three-point percentage up to 35.4 percent despite the slow start to the year. Paul’s just fine. He’s still the orchestrator of one of the top offenses in the league, and is fourth in the NBA with 15.5 potential assists per game. Paul might not be up to his Point God level as often anymore, but he’s still a damn fine player to have on your side.
The key to a victory in this game probably rests with everyone else on the team. In their last game, the Clippers got great contributions from Lance Stephenson, Austin Rivers, Josh Smith, DeAndre Jordan, and J.J. Redick. Those pieces have to show up on a near-nightly basis in order to help the team sustain success. The superstars are always going to show up – that’s just the nature of the business. It’s on the roleplayers and peripheral players to step up and get the job done. Jamal Crawford and Paul Pierce are still struggling as a tandem, boasting a -9.6 Net Rating in 232 minutes together. It’s the worst mark on the team by any duo that has played 175+ minutes together. Less time together would do them both some good.
This game could come down to rotations and how much each head coach manages minutes. Sam Mitchell has kept Karl-Anthony Towns’ minutes down over the last several games in an effort to keep Towns fresh throughout the season. Doc Rivers has mixed and matched as he sees fit in an attempt to find some working combination of players that net him productive results. Both guys have had highly questionable rotational choices all season, so it will be interesting to see this matchup play itself out in person and on television. It could either be fun or it could make you cringe.
|2015/2016 NBA Regular Season
|November 29, 2015 | 12:30 PM (PDT)
|STAPLES Center (Los Angeles, California)
|Prime Ticket, FS NORTH, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
|Win-Loss Breakdown (2015-2016 Regular Season)
|Advanced Stats (2015-2016 Regular Season)
|99.38 (14th of 30)
|99.26 (15th of 30)
|101.0 (17th of 30)
|104.6 (5th of 30)
|100.1 (11th of 30)
|103.0 (19th of 30)
|Nemanja Bjelica (Questionable) Knee
|Pablo Prigioni (Questionable) Illness
|Ricky Rubio (Questionable) Ankle
|Nikola Pekovic (Out) Achilles