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Game Preview: Clippers Hope to Bounce Back Against Wolves

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The LA Clippers host the Minnesota Timberwolves, looking to get back on track following a tough road loss.

Minnesota Timberwolves v LA Clippers Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Game Information

When: 7:30pm PST

Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA

How to Watch/Listen: NBATV, Fox Prime Ticket, AM 570

Projected Starting Lineups

Clippers: (G) Milos Teodosic, (G) Lou Williams, (F) Wesley Johnson, (F) Blake Griffin, (C) Willie Reed

Timberwolves: (G) Jeff Teague, (G) Andrew Wiggins, (F) Nemanja Bjelica, (F) Karl-Anthony Towns, (C) Taj Gibson

Injuries

Clippers: DeAndre Jordan (ankle), Austin Rivers (ankle), Danilo Gallinari (glute), C.J. Williams (ankle), Patrick Beverley (knee)

Timberwolves: Jimmy Butler (knee), Jamal Crawford (toe)

The Big Picture

Despite the slew of injuries that have plagued the LA Clippers this season, they have managed to work their way into the playoff picture (at least for now). Blake Griffin, Milos Teodosic, Danilo Gallinari, and Austin Rivers have all missed significant amounts of time, and they’ve been without DeAndre Jordan for the last four games. Patrick Beverley is even slated to miss the remainder of the season. And still, they are somehow 8th place in the West, going 7-3 in the month of January.

Lou Williams has been absolutely sensational, and Doc Rivers has done a masterful job of experimenting with a variety of rotations, giving a patchwork of rookies, role players, and G-League call-ups meaningful minutes against some very formidable opponents. A favorable strength of schedule hasn’t hurt, either. But give credit all around, because this Clippers group has been outmatched in talent on a nightly basis and has willed their way into wins by outmatching teams in effort, focus, and communication.

The Antagonist

The Minnesota Timberwolves, who had long-struggled to find wins and establish an identity, flipped a switch this season. After acquiring Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague, and Taj Gibson during the offseason to compliment a young and developing roster featuring Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, the Timberwolves appeared poised to at least crack the top half of the conference entering the season. They’ve surpassed early expectations thus far, currently sitting 3rd in the West with a 30-18 record. They’re in a virtual tie with the San Antonio Spurs, and only the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets are ahead of them. With a current Offensive Rating of 110.6, 3rd in the entire league, their offense is potent. They’re also 6th in the league in points per game, averaging 108.6 a night.

What’s most impressive is that they’re scoring at such a high clip despite lacking reliable outside shooting. Most of the league’s high-caliber offenses fair pretty favorably in most 3-point metrics. The Timberwolves, however, are 29th in 3-point attempts per game (22.5), 30th in 3-point makes per game (8.0), and 23rd in 3-point percentage (35.4%). What they may lack in outside shooting, they make up for in taking care of the ball. They average just 12.7 turnovers a night, the 2nd-best mark in the league. They’re also shooting 47.6% from the field, 5th-best in the league.

The Timberwolves are 6-4 in their last 10 games, but they’re just 11-12 on the road this season. Facing a Clippers team that is 14-9 at home, and possibly without the services of Jimmy Butler and Jamal Crawford, it could be a tough time finding ways to score. Look for guys like Nemanja Bjelica, Jeff Teague, and Gorgui Dieng to become factors in tonight’s matchup, since the Clippers may opt to load-up on Towns and Wiggins early and often.

Pushing the Pace

The Clippers perform their best this season when they push the ball up the floor in transition. Naturally, it helps generate high-percentage shot opportunities even when their outside shots aren’t falling. The construct of the Clippers rotation, as it currently stands, is young and athletic, making the transition game a reliable source of offense for them. On the season, the Clippers rank 11th in the league in Pace, but in the month of January, the Clippers rank 1st. This is because guys like Tyrone Wallace, Jawun Evans, and Sindarius Thornwell can run the ball up the floor at a blistering pace, while Montrezl Harrell, Wesley Johnson, and Sam Dekker can leak out quicker than most of the guys ever guarding them. And Blake Griffin, Lou Williams, and Milos Teodosic can utilize their excellent court vision to get the ball up ahead in transition, or to a trailer when opponents can keep up.

By locking-in defensively and actively seeking out transition opportunities, they’ve increased their offensive output despite all the potential scoring they’re missing out on due to injuries. In January, they are averaging 115 points per game, 2nd-best in the league during this stretch (only behind the Warriors). The Clippers will look to continue the trend, though it won’t come easy against the Timberwolves, who rank 6th in the league in offensive rebounding (10.5 per game) and 2nd in the league in fewest turnovers (12.7).

Sweet Lou Stays Hot

In the month of January, Lou Williams is leading the league in scoring with 30.1 points per game. And he’s doing it while shooting 46.1% from the field, 40.7% from beyond the arc, and 94.9% from the line. Williams also ranks just 22nd in minutes per game (35.3), so he’s making the most of his time out on the floor. What’s most impressive about his ability to continue such a high offensive output is that opponents have started double-teaming him just about any time he has the ball in his hands in the half court. And he doesn’t waste much time at all, reading opponents pretty quickly and acting decisively.

When he gets any room to shoot off the catch outside the arc, he’s going to pull the trigger. When defenders bite on a shot fake or run out to contest a shot, he usually drives into the paint for a layup or drops the ball off to someone with a more open look. And if he’s ever given the opportunity to go left into a rhythm jumper, contested or not, he’s basically automatic.

Look for Lou to stay hot against a Timberwolves team that ranks just 21st in Defensive Rating and a lowly 29th in opponent field goal percentage (47.4%).

Final Thoughts

Tonight’s matchup is a great opportunity for the Clippers to bounce back from what was a very winnable game in Utah on Saturday night. Whether or not the Timberwolves have Jimmy Butler available, the Clippers must stick to what has worked so well for them and simply push the ball up the floor following steals and defensive rebounds. The Clippers also rank 2nd in the league in both personal fouls drawn (22.4) and and free throws attempted (25.4) per game, so they need to get going early in quarters.