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Los Angeles Clippers (8-4) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (6-8)
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Last game: Minnesota: W, 93-85 vs Detroit, Los Angeles: W, 91-89 vs Dallas
The Timberwolves struggled early but finished strong on Wednesday, defeating Detroit behind a 20 point, 17 rebound performance from Kevin Love. The Wolves lost every quarter besides the fourth to the Pistons, crushing Detroit 29-14 in the final frame.
The Clippers beat the Mavericks on Wednesday on a last second three by Chauncey Billups, but it was Mo Williams who carried the CP3-less Clips to a victory, scoring 26 points off the bench. Williams was a torrid 11-15 from the field, and the Clippers are first in their division, leading the cross-town rival Lakers by percentage points.
The Key Questions
#1. Soooo…no Chris Paul tonight?
Nope. CP3 has marked Sunday as his anticipated return from a hamstring injury, meaning the Clippers will be starting Chauncey Billups at point guard. Chauncey, of course, is a very capable point guard, but he isn’t Chris Paul. Nobody is.
#2. Can the Wolves continue to get this kind of bench production?
I’ll admit: once Rubio became a starter, I worried about Minnesota’s bench. Were they just overachieving because they had such a great passer working with them? Would they struggle to score the ball when Rubio spent most of his minutes as a starter? Fortunately, this doesn’t seem to be the case. Against Detroit, the bench was +24 for the game. Bringing back JJ Barea, of course, has helped considerably, but Wayne Ellington seems to have snapped out of his early season shooting slump as well, Tolliver was 50% from downtown against the Pistons, and even Pek got into the action, scoring 11 points.
#3. How many teams have a lower winning percentage than Minnesota right now?
11. I’ll let that sink in for a minute: there are eleven teams in the NBA whose records are worse than Minnesota’s. And considering the early schedule Minnesota was stuck with, being two games under .500 is a fairly attractive prospect, thank you very much. Has mediocrity ever felt this good?
The Key Matchups
Let’s start with the obvious: Kevin Love vs Blake Griffin. Neither player is especially good at defense, Love because he doesn’t enjoy giving up rebounding position to play help defense, Griffin because (as was pointed out in this interesting Hoopspeak.com article) he has surprisingly short arms. Love’s deficiency is a little less detrimental in one on one post defense, so it will be interesting to see if he has a small advantage tonight.
It’s easy for the uneducated basketball fan to look at Rubio and assume that he will struggle against a player like Billups, considering that Rubio is a rookie and Billups has been in the NBA since James Naismith cut a hole in the bottom of the first peach basket. But Rubio has shown great poise against some really excellent point guards so far this year, and honestly, I feel a little deprived that we won’t get to see him take on Chris Paul yet. Ah well.
Minnesota’s bench runs much deeper than the Clippers, who had five players with 30+minutes against the Mavericks, while Minnesota had just two against Detroit. This would matter more, of course, if both teams hadn’t had a night off in between. Still. The Wolves should be much less gassed at the end of the game.
The Clippers are a good team, but not a great one, at least not yet. This will be an excellent test for the Timberwolves. If Minnesota plays well, they could certainly run their record to 7-8 and be THISCLOSE to .500. But if they play like they did for three quarters against the Pistons, this game probably won’t be close.
Game starts at 9:30 pm on (HOLY CRAP THE WOLVES ARE ON) ESPN.