Clippers-Timberwolves doesn’t seem like a marquis game. In fact, this particular contest appears to be furthest from. The game will take place at 12:30 PM PT, a notoriously sleepy time, especially for weekend games played in a party city like Los Angeles. The quality of basketball is notoriously slow, with poor starts and lackadaisical defense both occurring in abundance. Moreover, the Clippers have no rivalry or history with the Timberwolves. There’s nothing special about this game, whatsoever.
However, that very lack of seeming importance is what makes this an interesting test for the Clippers. While the Clips have had impressive wins all season long, from their opening night triumph over the Lakers to their comeback against the Celtics to their recent victories in Dallas and Miami, they have struggled with lesser teams. Minnesota, sitting at 14th in the West and with a depressing 10 losses in a row to their name, certainly qualifies as a bottom-dweller. The Clippers have lost to the Bulls, Kings, and Hawks and had numerous other narrow escapes over other lottery-bound squads. This contest is no sure thing.
That, of course, is the issue. The problem with the Clippers this year, outside of some stretches with high turnovers or defensive breakdowns, has not been execution but effort. They have simply not shown up against worse teams, expecting those teams to roll over or to be able to triumph late in games through sheer talent alone. While the Clippers have mostly been able to pull off said victories, it’s not a great habit, and one that has cost them several times. Every game matters for playoff seeding, and the Clippers could well rue some of these losses come the postseason.
Worse, many of the Clippers worst performances in recent months have come at home. After starting off the year looking dominant at Staples, with a sparkling 14-1 record in the friendly confines of Los Angeles, the Clips have gone just 5-4 at home since. Most of those games have been against these lesser teams as well, and rather than demonstrating their might and giving the hometown fans a show, the Clippers have instead put forth disappointing efforts. That doesn’t only reflect negatively on their record, but has also caused some discontent from fans, who have grown so used to the tenacious squads of the past two seasons that they’ve been dismayed at some of the performances they’ve paid good money to see. It’s never good to upset fans, and the Clippers have certainly done so at times this season.
The Timberwolves game, then, is a confluence of issues. The Clippers are playing at home, on a weekend morning, against a bad team in a huge rut. Everything is set up for a massive Clippers victory – or for a tremendous disappointment. If the Clippers come out and play hard, with or without Kawhi Leonard, they should be able to triumph over the unhappy and thin Wolves. If they play around with their food again and give Minnesota hope, they could easily let this one slip, especially with a player as talented as Karl-Anthony Towns on the either side of the court.
In the end, this game won’t really tell us much about the Clippers (or the Wolves). Great (or very good, if you don’t buy the Clips hype) teams lose to bad teams all the time in the NBA, and the Clippers would not be the first title-dreaming team to take a few nights off in the regular season. On the other hand, the Clippers could make a statement of sorts by really coming out hard and playing to their fullest potential after that debacle against the Kings, showing fans that they mean business for the second half of the season. The ball is in their court.
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