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Clippers-Timberwolves Preview: Thumbs Down

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Bearing more bad injury news, the Clippers return to action against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Minnesota Timberwolves Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The Big Picture:

...is really a single digit, specifically the left thumb of one Christopher Emmanuel Paul. That darn thumb underwent surgery yesterday and will keep the Clippers’ star point guard sidelined for the next 6-8 weeks. And during the first week or two of his absence, Chris Paul can compare civvies with fellow star Blake Griffin, who continues to rehabilitate an injury of his own. So while visions of Carmelo Anthony dance like Syracuse-orange sugarplums in fans’ heads, the rest of Doc Rivers’ men will work to keep up the winning, as the Clippers are now seven-for-2017. Two of those wins came without Paul and Griffin. I’m sure they needn’t be reminded that five of the prior six losses did as well.

The Antagonist:

41.5. That was the Las Vegas Westgate Superbook’s over/under for the Minnesota Timberwolves’ win total this season. 28-12. That’s the record the Wolves would have to earn over the season’s second half in order to reach win #42, nearly the inverse of their current 14-28 mark and just one win shy of what the Clippers have managed so far. With an enviable young core of long-armed puppets and defensive maestro Tom Thibodeau pulling the strings, Minnesota’s young pups were expected by many to grow into a defensive monster. Instead, their 107.4 points allowed per 100 possessions ranks just 23rd in the league, and their well-chronicled third-quarter struggles have submarined their frequently playoff-worthy first-half play. Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, and company possess all the requisite talent, now they need the refinement. Their goal for the next 40 games should be to demonstrate something resembling defensive competency. Stopping a Clipper squad missing its two leading scorers is an attainable start.

The Subplots:

  • Comparison of Key Metrics: Gallons of digital ink have been spent discussing the Timberwolves’ abysmal third quarter net rating, which currently stands at -10.1, second-worst in the league ahead of only the lowly Nets. The Clippers’ third quarter net rating is 7, good for fifth. Really though, Minnesota, who are sixth-best in first-half net rating, kinda suck for entire second halves. Their net rating following halftime is -8.6, tied for 25th.
  • The Schedule: A five-game road trip looms, beginning Saturday in Denver and culminating in Oakland a week later.
  • Triplet Cities: Zach LaVine’s offensive output has exploded in his third season, and he joins Towns and Wiggins as one of three Minnesota 20-point-per-game scorers. Playing nearly 10 more minutes per night helps his counting stats, but so too does launching three more three-pointers per game while converting even more of them. Most everyone knew he could dunk with the best of them. He’s proving he can score with them too.
  • Rubi-on His Way Out: Reports are flying around that Minnesota is shopping starting point guard Ricky Rubio and intends to trade him before the deadline. The former fifth-overall pick was thought to be the Wolves’ once and future star, but his almost comical inability to score has hampered his otherwise beautifully-crafted game. Some may not realize that the shaggy Spaniard is still just 26, and there should be several teams willing to pony up some asset for the opportunity to reinvigorate his development. Meanwhile, Minnesota is wisely looking to clear the road for 2016’s fifth-overall pick, Kris Dunn.
  • First-String Felton: The LA Times reported yesterday that Ray Felton will likely start in Chris Paul’s place, with JJ Redick and Austin Rivers taking the wing spots.
  • For the Timberwolves’ perspective, check out Canis Hoopus.