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Clippers-Wolves Preview: L.A. heads to Minnesota to face Timberwolves

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Can the Clippers build on Saturday's comeback win over the Magic as they head out on the road to take on the young Timberwolves?

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

2015-16 NBA Regular Season
vs
Minnesota Timberwolves (8-11)

Los Angeles Clippers (11-9)
December 7, 2015 — 5:00 PM PT
Target Center (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
Prime Ticket, The Beast 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Win-Loss Breakdown ('15-'16)
8-11 Record 11-9
5-6 East 2-2
3-5 West 9-7
1-2 Division 3-3
2-8 Home 9-5
6-3 Road 2-4
4-9 .500+ 4-6
4-2 .500– 7-3
1-1 OT 0-0
4-6 L10 3-7
Projected Starters
Ricky Rubio PG Austin Rivers
Kevin Martin SG Jamal Crawford
Andrew Wiggins SF Luc Mbah a Moute
Kevin Garnett PF Blake Griffin
Karl-Anthony Towns C DeAndre Jordan
Efficiency Stats ('15-'16)
99.0 (15th) Pace 99.4 (12th)
101.0 (19th) OffRtg 104.0 (3rd)
101.2 (17th) DefRtg 101.8 (18th)
-0.2 (17th) NetRtg +2.2 (11th)
Injury Report

Nikola Pekovic (Achilles) Out

Chris Paul (Ribs) Doubtful

J.J. Redick (Ankle) Questionable

Injury update

The Clippers have been without their starting backcourt of J.J. Redick and Chris Paul for each of the last two games (save for one possession of J.J. against Indiana), and there's a good chance neither will be fit to play in this game, either. Paul's rib injury is likely to take more time to heal, though Redick is officially listed as "questionable." Ankle injuries have a way of lingering, though, and it would be in the Clippers' best interests to make sure the injury is completely behind him before rushing him back out there. If neither player can play, then we're likely to see Austin Rivers and Jamal Crawford starting together once again.

Minnesota, on the other hand, comes into this one fairly healthy. Nikola Pekovic has missed the entire season to this point as he continues to nurse an Achilles injury after undergoing surgery during the offseason. He's hoping to start participating in team workouts sometime in the next few weeks, though isn't likely to see game action until after the new year. Even then, it's hard to see where he fits in the Wolves' frontcourt rotation with the emergence of both Karl-Anthony Towns and Gorgui Dieng.

What's new with the Timberwolves?

The Timberwolves are noticeably improved this season after finishing last year with the NBA's worst record. They've already won half as many games (eight) as they did all of last season, though they're still likely to be on the outside looking in on the Western Conference playoff picture. Regardless, the future is bright for a team that has spent the better part of a decade dwelling in the cellar of the league.

This is a roster oozing with young talent. On top of last season's Rookie of the Year, Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota also seems to have a budding superstar in Karl-Anthony Towns. This year's top overall pick took home Western Conference Rookie of the Month honors for October/November after averaging 13.9 points, 9.2 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game over the course of his first 15 NBA contests. He's putting up these numbers despite being 20-years-old and playing just over 27 minutes a night. Towns is already a paint-patrolling defensive menace that clearly has the tools to become a dominant offensive player, as well. Check out his shot chart:

He's not taking a ton of shots from the outside, but he's making an awful lot of the ones he does take. Again, he's going to be incredible. Minnesota is struggling right now, having lost three straight, but it's not going to be long until the Wolves will be a team to be reckoned with. Their two best players (Wiggins and Towns) are 40-years-old, combined.

While this is obviously a roster with plenty of youth, the Wolves also have a random slew of olds. Kevin Garnett (39), Tayshaun Prince (35) and Andre Miller (39) combine to be 113-years-old. Of course, none of them factor a whole lot into the rotation, either. KG is a starter, though he's more of a figurehead. He plays 16 minutes a night and rarely makes much of an impact. Prince was recently ejected from the starting lineup in favor of Kevin Martin, while Miller has only appeared in nine games.

Season series

These teams just met at STAPLES Center on November 29th, with the Clippers winning in rather comfortable fashion, 107-99. Then again, the Clippers had their full complement of players, while the Wolves were playing without Ricky Rubio. That won't be the case this time around.

Following a sluggish start (this was one of the many home Sunday matinees the Clippers will play this year), L.A. ramped it up in the second quarter and went on a 20-4 run that put the Timberwolves on their heels. This was the first game started by Luc Mbah a Moute, who has subsequently started each of the last three games for the Clips at small forward. He's primarily out there for defensive purposes, and it seems safe to assume Doc Rivers will stick with him with Wiggins looming on the other side.

Matchup to watch

Ricky Rubio vs. Clippers PGs

With CP3 likely sidelined once again, we're going to see how the Clippers' backups are able to handle a high-caliber guard in Ricky Rubio. He likes to get out and run in the open court, and has excelled in the league both as a playmaker and a defender. One area in which he's struggled to improve, though, has been shooting. Rubio is a career 30.5% shooter from three-point range, and he's actually regressed in that area since shooting a decent 34% from beyond as a rookie. In 13 games thus far this season, he's connecting on just 16.7% of his triple tries. I'd show you his shot chart, but it's NSFW (SO MUCH BLOOD).

Fine. Here it is, if you dare.

The key to defending Rubio is to limit his opportunities on the break and prevent him from getting into the paint. Austin Rivers should be able to do a fine job in both areas, as he's plenty athletic and big enough to (theoretically) stick with Rubio. Outside of Kevin Martin, there really isn't anyone else on the Minnesota roster that scares you from beyond-the-arc. Only the Nets take fewer three-pointers than the Wolves do per-game (16.7), and they're only hitting 32.5% of the ones they do take. Minnesota is actually one of three teams in the league that has fewer made threes on the season than Stephen Curry (Curry: 116, Minnesota: 101). Forcing Rubio into taking jumpers should be priority No. 1 for the Clippers on defense. If he's able to slash into the paint and find his springy teammates open around the rim, it's trouble.

With all of their young athletes and their reluctance to shoot from the outside, the Wolves are going to try and attack the rim relentlessly. It's crucial for DeAndre Jordan and the rest of the Clipper bigs to be precise with their rotations and try and wall-off the rim whenever possible.

Build on Saturday

It got fairly dicey at various points throughout the second half, but the Clippers showed good fight in their comeback victory over Orlando on Saturday night. For what seemed like the first time all season, they were actually able to knock down the open three-pointers they were afforded. Jamal Crawford (really) and Wesley Johnson were both unconscious from deep, hitting a combined 12-of-21 from the promised land. Of course, the downside of that is that they were the only two Clippers to actually make a three in this one. Five other Clippers attempted at least one triple, and none of them connected. Woof. Luckily, those other two picked up the slack.

Hoping that two of your role players can step up and deliver ungodly shooting efforts in the same game is a strategy that's destined to fail if leaned upon too heavily, so the Clippers have to go into this game knowing that. Blake Griffin was magnificent against the Magic, delivering 28 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists on 11-of-22 shooting from the floor. DeAndre Jordan rebounded from a subpar effort against the Pacers to the tune of 15 points and 14 boards, as well. It's essential for these two guys to play well, especially when Paul and/or Redick are sidelined. There isn't a team in the league that can match LAC's talent level in the two big man spots, and it's high time they started playing like it.

Game day song of choice

Prince. Straight outta Minneapolis.

The action gets started from Target Center at 5:00pm Pacific. Watch with us, won't you? Go Clippers.