When: December 6, 2017 at 7:30 PM PT
Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
How to Watch: ESPN, AM 570
Probable Starting Lineups:
Wolves: Jeff Teague, Andrew Wiggins, Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, Karl-Anthony Towns
Clippers: Austin Rivers, CJ Williams, Wesley Johnson, Jamil Wilson, DeAndre Jordan
Wolves: Nemanja Bjelica Questionable (foot injury), Jimmy Butler Probable (sprained left pinky)
Clippers: Danilo Gallinari Questionable (strained left glute), Patrick Beverley Out (right knee surgery), Blake Griffin Out (left MCL sprain), Milos Teodosic Out (left plantar fascia injury)
The Big Picture:
Help is on the way! Danilo Gallinari is questionable for this game, and indications are that he will suit up. Of course, he’s not going to be quite up to NBA speed, but his shooting and passing are going to help right away. If he does play, I suspect he starts (pushing Jamil Wilson to the bench). Milos Teodosic isn’t far behind, and it’s possible he plays against the Wizards on Saturday. The return of Gallinari and Teodosic will finally lighten the load on Austin Rivers and Lou Williams, who have been asked to carry the Clippers’ offense in recent weeks (which is beyond both of their capabilities on most nights). The Clippers’ defense has been a bigger issue than their offense, however, and neither of the returnees will help too much on that end (Gallinari is an upgrade over Wilson and Sam Dekker, but not a game changer). Hopefully, with those two guys back, the Clippers can remain an approximately .500 team until Blake Griffin returns. This is some much-needed good news after a tough loss on Sunday to the Wolves and a massacre against the Mavericks the day before.
The Timberwolves are having an up-and-down season. They barely beat the Clippers Sunday night, and then promptly lost to the weakened Grizzlies the following day. The Wolves theoretically have a lot of talent with Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, and Jeff Teague, but that talent hasn’t translated into a particularly great team thus far this season. They aren’t strong defensively, with a lot of the blame for that falling on Towns’ failure to improve as a rim protector (or a defender in general). They are pretty good on offense, but play much like the Clippers of the last few weeks: “your turn, my turn” in isolation and post-ups. When they actually get their offense to become more free-flowing, they can look very dangerous, as they have so many threats who can create their own shots. The Wolves’ bench has also been a weakness: old friend Jamal Crawford (more on him later) is finally starting to show his age a bit, while Shabazz Muhammad is unplayable due to his poor defense. Coach Thibodeau is notorious for riding his starters hard, and that trend has continued this season, in part because of the ineffectiveness of the bench. Nonetheless, they are 5th in the West, are have far more talent than most of their opponents on a nightly basis. If they stay healthy, they are a virtual lock for the playoffs.
· Jamal Crawford Returns to Staples: Crawford already reunited with his old Clippers’ teammates on Sunday, but tonight will be his first game as a guest at Staples Center (except when playing the Lakers) in six seasons. Jamal may have tailed off his last couple seasons as a Clipper, but he won two 6th Man of the Year awards with the franchise, and is one of the best bench scorers the team has ever seen (if not the best). He was a consummate professional throughout his time as a Clipper, and was a beloved teammate. The Clippers will almost certainly have a video tribute for him at some point, deservedly so. Jamal should absolutely get a standing ovation upon checking into the game (and/or after the video): he gave his all to this team, and he was a vital component to the best Clippers’ squads in the teams’ history. Applaud that man.
· Gallinari’s Comeback: Gallinari has missed the Clippers’ last 13 games with a strained left glute, and the team has sorely lacked his offensive abilities, especially shot creation. If he returns tonight, look for him to get minutes in the mid-20s (no reporting there, just a hunch), and for the Clippers to lean on him quite a bit to get him back into a rhythm. If he doesn’t look 100% in warmups though, the Clippers should not rush him back to play. There is a lot of season left to play, and keeping Gallo healthy for the duration of it is far more important than one game. Provided he suits up, he will probably match up on Taj Gibson, as guarding Jimmy Butler would be a lot of pressure in his first game. Integrating Gallo back into the lineup could be a bit difficult, especially for Austin and Lou, who will finally have to cede some of their control over the offense, but it should certainly be worth it in the long haul.
· Rotation Shake-Ups: Again, this is assuming that Gallinari plays. If he doesn’t, Doc’s rotations will probably be similar to those he ran on Sunday. The addition of Gallinari will likely mean that either Jamil Wilson or Sam Dekker gets axed from the rotation, with the other getting minutes backing up Gallo at power forward. I’d lean towards Dekker losing his spot: while he has far more NBA experience and pedigree than Wilson, Wilson’s performances over the last two games have been better than anything of Dekker’s as a Clipper. Most importantly, Wilson can stroke it from deep, while Sam hasn’t been able to hit a shot from outside all season. Outside of that, Wes Johnson might lose some of his minutes, as might Montrezl Harrell. It will be interesting to see how Doc manages the rotations as the team starts to get healthy again at last (fingers crossed).
· First National TV Game: This game is on ESPN, and will be the Clippers’ first nationally televised game of the season. After six seasons of 20+ games on national tv because of Chris Paul and Lob City, the lack of games on TNT, ESPN, and ABC is rather odd. As I usually listen to the Clippers’ broadcast on League Pass, it will be interesting to see what the national crew has to say about the Clippers. Hopefully the game is entertaining.
· Connections: Jamal played on the Clippers from 2012-2017, yet only five teammates of his remain on this Clippers roster. Wes Johnson was drafted by the Wolves way back in 2010 (he was the 4th pick in the draft), spending two seasons on the team before getting traded to Phoenix. Beloved ex-Clipper Cole Aldrich is in his second season warming the bench in Minnesota: it’s a bit surprising he hasn’t been more productive there. Finally, Thibodeau was Doc’s defensive assistant coach back in the late 2000’s during the Big 3 era, and helped him win a ring in 2008. The two remain close, and have very similar coaching styles.
· Schedule Ahead: The Clippers have another long break until they face the Wizards at home on Saturday. They should be able to get another practice in on Friday, which should help Milos and Gallo get more reps with the team. The Wizards will be lacking John Wall’s All NBA presence, but are still dangerous: they won last night in Portland behind 51 points (!!!!!) from Bradley Beal. They wrap up their three-game homestand against the Raptors on Monday before heading out on a very tough four game road-trip. Milos should be back by then, which would be of immense relief.