Minnesota Timberwolves (17-17) at Los Angeles Clippers (20-11)
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Last game: Minnesota: W, 100-98 vs Utah; Los Angeles: W, 103-95 vs Denver
Legs are rested, minds refreshed, it’s time to start the second half of the season. The Wolves finished the first half on a high note by completing a comeback, buzzer-beating winner against division rival Utah Jazz. But the All-Star break couldn’t have come sooner because everyone needed those few days of rest.
The Wolves move into the second half with momentum but also with question marks all over. Will Kevin Love start hitting more threes? Will we see better ball control from the point guard trio? Will Michael Beasley find his way back into the starting lineup ahead of Wes Johnson? How will Nikola Pekovic perform after the weekend break?
Despite the uncertainty, one thing is for certain: The Wolves are back and in the playoff picture.
Tonight the Wolves are in L.A. for back-to-backs against the Clippers tonight and Lakers tomorrow. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin represented the West in the All-Star game along with Kevin Love, so the three should know each other pretty well by now. Only this time they’ll be competing against each other.
The Key Questions:
1) How does Kevin Love play after failing to rest during All-Star weekend?
Most players were given the chance to rest their legs and just relax over the weekend. Not Love. No, the power forward was too busy winning the three-point contest and scoring 17 points in the All-Star game. He is a young athlete and he may not need to rest as much as some of the older players but it’s still a fair question.
Last time the Wolves played the Clippers Love nailed the buzzer-beating three pointer for the win. Does he have the physical and mental stability to do the same if the situation calls his name? We can only hope so.
2) The second half is full of away games; will the Wolves rise to the occasion?
In the first half of the season, the Wolves played well on the road, 7-7. The common assumption for young teams is they can’t play on the road; the crowds are too loud, the confidence isn’t there; it all plays a part. But this season it’s almost as if the Wolves don’t see road games as much of a challenge. As stated before, this is the first game of back-to-backs at the Staples Center against L.A.’s two teams. This one may be the easier one to win than tomorrow — The Wolves suck against the Lakers, always — making it all the more special to steal another one in Clipper town yet again.
3) Who plays small forward?
Odds are Johnson continues to start at the 3, but at what point does Adelman insert Beaz back into the starting lineup? It has to be soon, right? Beasley’s numbers are far and wide above what Johnson has posted so far this season, and Beasley’s defense has improved this season too. I do believe that Beasley’s spot as sixth man is working well for both parties but it might be worth it to take a look at making the switch at some point.
The Key Matchups:
Chris Paul is averaging 8.6 assists a game this season with Ricky Rubio just shy of that mark at 8.4. Rookies don’t hang with veterans too often but we’ve quickly learned in 34 games just what Rubio is capable of. On the defensive end, these guards are two of the best thieves in the NBA. So, although Paul has advantages in shooting and perhaps sheer playmaking, the two are leading some of the NBA’s notoriously bad teams into potential playoff candidates. That’s definitely the matchup to watch.
The other matchup to watch is obviously Blake Griffin vs Love. The two are very close to each other but won’t let friendship get in the way of tonight’s tilt. The debate will continue over who’s the better power forward, and the more and more these two face off, the more clarity will shine in as the debate continues.
The Wolves could start the season on a high note with a win and another step above the .500 mark. Or they could get blown out in this one and start the slide down a slippery slope with tons of road games on the upcoming schedule. In order to get off on that right foot, the Wolves are going to need more out of their role players — Michael Beasley, Luke Ridnour, Wes Johnson, just to name a few — to get some wins on the road. The first half was clearly led by Love and Rubio but they can only do so much. I expect moves to be made before the trade deadline but hopefully the Wolves can get off to the right start with what they have and make adjustments later when needed.
Game starts at 9:30 pm on FS North