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Clippers-Timberwolves preview: Stay Focused

After a road loss in Golden State, the Clippers come back home to meet up with a rested Minnesota squad that features all the key components to upset Los Angeles. The team cannot lose focus.

Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports
2014/2015 NBA Regular Season

March 9, 2015, 7:30 PM
STAPLES Center (Los Angeles, California)
Prime Ticket, Fox Sports North, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Win-Loss Breakdown (2014-2015)
14-11 East 8-16
26-12 West 6-31
8-3 Division 3-8
23-9 Home 9-24
17-14 Road 5-23
17-19 .500+ 5-32
23-4 .500- 9-15
1-1 OT 0-2
6-4 L10 3-7
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Ricky Rubio
J.J. Redick SG Kevin Martin
Matt Barnes SF Andrew Wiggins
Spencer Hawes PF Kevin Garnett
DeAndre Jordan C Nikola Pekovic
Advanced Stats
96.79 (11th of 30) Pace 97.51 (9th of 30)
109.4 (1st of 30) ORtg 99.6 (27th of 30)
103.4 (18th of 30) DRtg 108.5 (30th of 30)
Blake Griffin (Out) Elbow
Shabazz Muhammad (Out) Finger
Jamal Crawford (Out) Calf
Anthony Bennett (Out) Leg

Robbie Hummel (Out) Hand

Clippers lead season series over Timberwolves; 2-0
Clips Nation Recap
ESPN Box Score
Los Angeles
Clippers 127, Timberwolves 101
Box Score
Clippers 110, Timberwolves 105
Box Score

The Big Dogs
The Los Angeles Clippers are coming off of an expected loss at the hands of the best team in basketball – Golden State Warriors – and now must set their sights on a team that is playing better than their record certainly indicates. For the Clippers, though, it’s all about treading water until they get fully healthy again. The team is 7-5 without Blake Griffin but the positive side is that all five losses are to current Western Conference playoff teams. And three of those five are by five points or less. The hopeful sign, beyond that, is that they’re still the 5-seed despite all of this.

The Puppies
While they might only be 14-47 on the year, the Minnesota Timberwolves are definitely better than their record would indicate. Especially since Ricky Rubio came back on February 2nd. Since that point in time, the team has gone 6-8. Their wins have come against the Heat, Grizzlies, Pistons, Suns, Wizards, and Trail Blazers. On the flip side, their losses have come to the Mavericks, Hawks, Warriors, Rockets, Bulls, Grizzlies, Clippers, and Nuggets. So they are playing well. They have a collection of talent on the floor at all times that can create problems for opponents.

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Comparison of Key Metrics
It goes without saying that the Clippers possess the most potent offense in the NBA this year based on efficiency. The Timberwolves, unfortunately for them, are at the far other end of the spectrum – ranking 27th. However, it seems valid to look at how each team has done since two pivotal points of their season. For the Clippers, their offensive efficiency has been 105.4 without Blake Griffin. For the Timberwolves, it’s been 102.3 since getting Ricky Rubio back into the fold. Comparatively, each team has seen their defense suffer this season. Minnesota happens to be the worst team in basketball in defensive efficiency yet has improved since Rubio’s come back. They’re at 105.0, which is still bad, since he returned. The Clippers, on the other hand, are at 18th overall but have been at 100.9 (14th) without their stud power forward. In short, this should be a pretty good offensive showcase.

After the two teams meet Monday night, their season series will be done. So, this is it. For the Clippers, there are only 18 games left after these two teams play and 11 of those 18 will be against teams who are either currently in the playoffs or are just on the fringe of the playoffs – i.e. Celtics, Pelicans, and Suns. But after this game, the team has to travel to play Oklahoma City and Dallas before coming home for tilts against Houston and Charlotte. After that, they have a road game against the Kings, home games against the Wizards and Pelicans, and then head onto the road for to play the Knicks, 76ers, and Celtics. If they can come out of that stretch right there no worse than 48-26, they’ll be fine. This game marks the first of a four-game Western Conference road stretch against potential playoff teams – Clippers, Suns, Thunder, and Spurs. In fact, 9 of their next 13 games are all on the road. And 13 of their final 21. 14 of the 21 are against playoff caliber competition. So it won’t be easy sledding for them.

X-Factor: Gary Neal
During the last meeting, Neal managed to drop in 19 points on 6-for-17 shooting in 41 minutes while starting in place of an injured Kevin Martin. But due to Martin’s return, Neal will be coming off the bench for this contest and could exploit mismatches against Nate Robinson or guys of that ilk. Since arriving in Minnesota, Neal has managed to average 13.9 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 2.0 assists on 44.4 percent from the field, 35.7 percent from three, and 85.2 percent from the line. However, over the last six games, up at 15.2 points per game. Neal can get hot. The Clippers bench is devoid of any real menace to stop Neal on the perimeter. Austin Rivers might see time on Neal but he’ll also be seeing more time on Zach LaVine, most likely. That leaves it up to Nate Robinson, who isn’t a good defensive player at all, and that could lead to Neal feasting. Minnesota has some shooters. Neal’s one of them. They’ll have to keep him (and Kevin Martin) under wraps to be successful.

Magnificent Maestros Meet
There are few point guards in the league who can match Chris Paul pass for pass, decision for decision, and control for control. Ricky Rubio is definitely one of them. Rubio’s ability to be a floor general and passing savant is one of the purest things in the league. He finds can when he can’t even see them. Since his return from injury, Rubio’s averaging 12.3 points, 8.7 assists, and 6.2 rebounds. After starting the year off well shooting the ball, he’s regressed quite a bit but has managed to have some good shooting games here and there. His defense also cannot be slept on. He’s quite good on that end. For Chris Paul, what else is there to say? We all know what he’s been doing and the level he’s been playing at. Without his running mate, Paul’s averaged 21.8 points, 12.4 assists, and 4.8 rebounds on 50.7 percent from the field and 90.7 percent from the line. His three-point shooting – 28.3 percent – has suffered but he’s also taking tougher shots than he was earlier in the year. Paul’s phenomenal mid-range prowess is one of the greatest things in basketball these days. Especially when a defender is 4+ feet away from him. It was especially on display the last time these two teams met and he made an impossible shot over Kevin Garnett to ice the game.

Superman Clashes With Non
No, I am not dubbing DeAndre Jordan the next “Superman” in the NBA a la Dwight Howard or Shaquille O’Neal before him. DeAndre’s more like Groot. Anyways, no one can deny the striking resemblance between Nikola Pekovic and Non from Superman II. We all remember Non, right? He was one of the Kryptonian criminals, along with General Zod and Ursa, which escaped from the Phantom Zone. Pekovic plays just like him. Strong, burly, and tough. Due to his recent return from injury, Pekovic will likely only see in the neighborhood of 25 to 30 minutes going forward. On the year, he’s averaging nearly 13 points and 8 rebounds in 27 minutes per game. The issue is that he’s only shooting 42.8 percent from the field and is not a rim protector at all. According to Nylon Calculus rim protection metrics, Pekovic grades out as worse than Channing Frye. And on shots from within five feet of the rim that see Pekovic within three feet of them, opponents are shooting 48 percent. He’s not a deterrent. Jordan, however, leads the league in rebounds per game and has been stellar since Griffin’s injury. He’s averaging 14.2 points and 18.8 rebounds over that time period and has been generally great for vast stretches of action. We talked about Jordan’s chances for Defensive Player of the Year last week – with Steve Perrin arguing in favor of him winning and myself arguing against him winning. Be sure to check out both sides. This matchup is a big one. Pekovic can provide some problems for Jordan and vice versa. It’ll be interesting to see how they fare against one another.

Wunderkind Wiggins’ Wizardry
No disrespect to James Posey, but he is no Andrew Wiggins. In his rookie year, Wiggins has managed to average 15.9 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.9 assists, and 1.1 steals on 43.9 percent from the field, 34.6 percent from three, and 72.9 percent from the line. Combined with his dazzling display of athleticism and prowess for getting the line at nearly an elite rate, Wiggins has showcased his skills as the season has gone along. Since December 23rd, he’s averaged 18.8 points on 46.9 percent shooting. Over his last 15 games, he’s averaging 18.3 points on 46.6 shooting. Since the All-Star Break, he’s averaging 20.5 points on 47.7 shooting. The kid is playing great. There’s also him guarding the opposing team’s best perimeter player for a lot of the game. There aren’t enough superlatives to talk about his level of play, including his sensational ability to nab offensive rebounds and tip them back in over defenders who simply failed to realize he could do such things. I guess you can’t judge guys after 25 games into their career.

Ralph Lawler Night
Monday night will be "Ralph Lawler Night" at STAPLES Center, incase anyone did not know. Our beloved Ralph has broadcast well over 2500 games in his Clippers career. Whether it’s his handheld microphone, catchy phrases, or general greatness, Ralph Lawler has been the one constant for the Los Angeles Clippers over the last 36 years. The team is handing out Lawler themed t-shirts for the game and yours truly will be there to grab his. On the front of the shirt, it says “Oh me, oh my!” while “BINGO!” dawns the back of the shirt. There aren’t enough words to say what Lawler has meant to the franchise and the fanbase. Even when the team was losing year-in and year-out, Lawler was the best part. He kept you entertained the entire time and was the breath of fresh air you needed in your day. Monday night will mark Lawler’s 2839th game called for the Clippers and he is the third-longest tenured broadcaster currently in the NBA. We love you, Ralph. We can’t imagine life without you.

J. G. G. H.
The team has been hit by the injury bug over the last month. Whether it’s been Blake Griffin, Matt Barnes, or Jamal Crawford, the team has seen at least one of their top six players miss game action over that span. Yesterday afternoon’s game saw Barnes at least come back but Griffin and Crawford were still absent. They didn’t even make the trip to the Bay Area. There’s no telling how much longer either one will be out but based on comments it sounds like Griffin might be back before Crawford is because of Crawford’s history with calf injuries. Griffin is the more needed player out of the two. They can’t keep going into battle without him and expecting to rattle off wins against good-to-great competition. It’s tempting fate too much. While they’re not the only team dealing with injuries – Portland’s without Wesley Matthews and Houston’s without Dwight Howard – the Clippers definitely need to get fully healthy before the playoffs without any lingering effects. The stretch run is upon us. There’s roughly just a quarter of the season left to go and the team has (J)ust (G)otta (G)et (H)ealthy.

Matt Barnes, Zach LaVine, and Shabazz Muhammad all went to UCLA. Spencer Hawes and injured Anthony Bennett were teammates last year with the Cavaliers after Hawes was traded there by the 76ers. Hawes and Kevin Martin were teammates on the Sacramento Kings for a couple seasons, as well. There’s the obvious connection between Doc Rivers and Kevin Garnett when Doc coached Garnett on the Celtics and helped bring a championship back to Boston. Garnett and Glen Davis were teammates on the Celtics. Sam Cassell, currently a Clippers assistant coach, was a former teammate of Garnett’s from their days in Minnesota.

Wikipedia Entry
Timber Wolf is a superhero from 30th and 31st centuries of the DC Universe and he is a member of the Legion of Super-Heroes. He comes from the planet Zoon and features superpowers consisting of enhanced strength, speed, agility, enhanced senses, rapid healing, and sharp claws that he can fire as projectiles. His alter ego is Brin Londo. The C14 Timberwolf sniper rifle is a bolt action sniper rifle that originated in Canada. It fires a .338 Lapua Magnum cartridge and has an effective firing range of 1500 meters.

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