Timberwolves at Clippers
9:30 pm Central
"My oh my oh my, is that great basketball or what?" --Hubie Brown
The Los Angeles Clippers are tonight's opponent, and a good one indeed. Since that Love game winner in January of 2012, the Clippers have continued their ascendancy behind stars Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, while the Wolves suffered through two years of devastating injuries and bad wing play.
This season, with the Wolves finally more or less healthy, they look to join the ranks of playoff contenders along with teams like the Clippers.
The Clips, despite winning 56 games last season, made several big changes in the off-season, highlighted by hiring Doc Rivers as head coach. They also made something the Wolves haven't been able to do successfully in a decade look easy: they revamped their wing positions, swapping out last year's starters, Caron Butler (now in Milwaukee) and Willie Green (now coming off the bench) for sharpshooters and one time Wolves targets J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley, while retaining last year's backups Jamal Crawford and the perpetually underrated Matt Barnes.
This year's version of the Clippers in the early going features a high octane offense orchestrated by the incomparable Paul, who is merely averaging 21 and 12.5 assists despite a cold start from behind the arc. The team has weapons everywhere, as Redick and Dudley are making threes, and Blake Griffin is shooting 59% from the field. It's very hard to see how to stop this team; it might be one of those nights you just have to hope their shots aren't going in.
Much like the Wolves, despite another hot start for Jamal Crawford, the Clippers bench has struggled, especially with the recent injury to Matt Barnes, who has missed the last three games and is questionable for tonight. Darren Collison, backing up Paul, and Byron Mullins, the only big they play off the bench, have both played poorly in the early going, making the Clippers extremely thin, especially up front, where the Wolves will hope to take advantage by getting the starting bigs into foul trouble.
The Clippers have struggled defensively, allowing opponents to post a league high .535 efg% against them, while not being shy about sending them to the free throw line. The Wolves will have to take advantage of that if they want to win tonight.
The Clips have been tremendous in their only two home games so far, putting up 126 and 137 points respectively in wins over the Warriors and Rockets. If that's the kind of thing they do regularly at Staples...uh oh.
While I expect the match ups at the 4 and 5 spots to be crucial tonight, I'm really looking forward to the Chris Paul-Ricky Rubio battle. A great test for Rubio going against one of the handful of best players in the league: will Ricky be able to slow Paul down at all? Get things going at the offensive end? It will be fascinating to watch.
Both of these teams tend to play high pace basketball, so we could see a lot of running in this one, though with the Wolves having played last night, a lack of energy might be a problem. It would be fantastic if a couple of reserves had big games tonight, but we've been saying that all season. Maybe tonight.
We'll be back with the game thread later. In the meantime, if you haven't already, check out the Q and A I did with Steve Perrin of Clips Nation which is here. If you head over to his site, you will find Steve's excellent preview, as well as my answers on the Wolves in our Q and A.