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Preview: Battered Clippers Look for Surprise Win in Minnesota

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

The Big Picture

So...everything is awful. The Clippers’ tragic season hit a new low on Saturday afternoon in Dallas, as L.A. was blown out in embarrassing fashion by one of the worst teams in the league, 108-82. The result wasn’t a surprise, of course. When you’re playing without four starters, including arguably three of your best four players overall, you aren’t going to win many games, even against the dregs of the league.

Such is life for the Clippers right now. There’s a ton of talent in the NBA these days, and this beat-up version of LAC is sorely lacking in the talent department. Doc Rivers has gotten valiant efforts out of the likes of guys like Jamil Wilson, C.J. Williams, Jawun Evans and Sindarius Thornwell, but the fact that any of those four is having to play real minutes at this stage of the season is the problem right now.

Without Blake Griffin, the Clippers have suffered blowout defeats at the hands of the Jazz and the Mavericks. This afternoon, they’ll do battle with a Timberwolves side that has seen some ups and downs of their own this season.

The Fancy Table

The Antagonist

Tom Thibodeau’s T-Wolves have gone 13 up, 10 down through their first 23 games of the season. They’ve alternated wins and losses over their last six games, including a 111-107 defeat against OKC last time out. Today marks the first of four meetings between the two clubs this season. The Wolves will turn around and visit the Clips at Staples Center later this week.

Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins remain Minnesota’s core youngsters moving forward, but this team added a number of veterans during the offseason. Thibodeau brought a couple of former Bulls into the fold over the summer when they acquired Jimmy Butler in a draft day trade and signed Taj Gibson as a free agent. The Wolves also inked Jeff Teague to a three-year deal and plucked old friend Jamal Crawford off the free agency wire.

Having to incorporate a fairly high-usage player like Butler into the offense has hampered Towns’ statistical production thus far. After posting robust averages of 25.1 points and 12.3 rebounds per game in his second season, Towns is going for “only” 20.5 points and 11.6 boards this year. Towns is taking nearly four fewer shots per game than he did last season, and his free-throw attempts are down, too.

While the numbers may not be as gaudy with Butler around, KAT is still the focal point of what Minnesota wants to do offensively. The Clippers know that well, as Towns gouged them for averages of 30 points and 12 rebounds per game across their three head-to-head showdowns a season ago.

We know Thibodeau to be a guy that rides his starters heavily, and that’s the case again this season. Wiggins and Butler each rank in the top-seven in the league in minutes so far. Towns is 22nd, and Teague is 29th. As long as the game stays relatively close, it’s reasonable to expect all five Minnesota starters to play minutes in the mid-to-high 30s.

In case you were wondering how Jamal is doing, the wily vet is averaging 9.2 points and is shooting 36.8 percent from three-point range on the season. He only plays about 17 minutes per game, but you can be sure he’ll be up for this one against his former club.