Where: Staples Center — Los Angeles, California
When: 9:30 pm CST (TV coverage on TNT)
Why: Come for the Wolves action, stay for the entertaining reunion of two of Minnesota’s greatest sports stars:
If you haven’t been tuning in every Thursday for KG’s Area 21, you’re really missing out. The show is essentially an opportunity to hang with Kevin Garnett for a few hours and observe how former professional athletes truly watch and discuss the sport that they love so much.
Back to basketball...Minnesota enters L.A. tonight in search of their first road win of 2017. The Wolves put up a good fight on Tuesday in San Antonio, only to see their effort doomed by fourth quarter turnovers, poor shot selection, and lack of consistent bench production. Stop me if you’ve heard that before.
On a brighter note, while the wins have yet to mount in the Wolves favor, the on-court play (specifically the play of one Mr. Ricard ‘Ricky’ Rubio) has been an absolute joy to watch. While the offensive spacing still isn’t on par with that of the Warriors or Spurs (my guy Dane Moore masterfully broke down the Wolves current pick-and-roll offense earlier this week) Rubio has seemingly taken it upon himself to incorporate his MBA degree (Master of Basketball Assists) to once again establish himself as a genuine floor general.
Per Timberwolves PR, Rubio is averaging 14.0 assists over his last five games, while also averaging 13.1 points, 2.8 steals, and 92% from the foul line on 34/37 made FT’s during that span. Despite the never-ending trade rumors surrounding him (trade rumors that coincidentally picked up this week despite no real new information), Rubio seems to have once again regained the unicorn-like abilities that made him the 5th pick in the 2009 NBA Draft. Coincidentally, Rubio is only 3.5 years older than another PG currently on the Wolves roster that was selected 5th overall. *insert thinking emoji*
As for the Clippers, what was once another promising season has quickly morphed into a potential disaster. Just before Christmas, the Clippers lost Blake Griffin for 4-6 weeks after he underwent a successful procedure to “remove loose bodies from his right knee.” As someone who cringes when a splinter is removed, I’m not exactly sure what “loose bodies” are but they sound...not great. Griffin is entering week five of his recovery timetable, but a return date has yet to be set.
The news got even worse for the Clippers on Monday when Chris Paul tore a ligament in his left thumb against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Paul underwent successful surgery on Wednesday and is expected to be out 6-8 weeks.
Where exactly does that leave the Clippers right now? Well, aside from giving his son a substantial raise in allowance of 3-years/$35 million dollars, Doc Rivers had a surprisingly successful off-season by signing both Raymond Felton and Marreese “Mo Buckets” Speights this summer to veteran’s minimum contracts (approximately $1.5 million dollars per). Rivers also re-signed Jamal Crawford, Luc Mbah a Moute, and Brandon Bass in an effort to give the Clippers their first real (trustworthy) bench since Rivers arrived back in 2013.
With approximately eleven weeks left of the NBA regular season, it now falls upon these players to keep the Clippers afloat until their star reinforcements return. At 29-14, the Clippers currently sit 4th in the Western Conference, but are only four games ahead of the 7th place Oklahoma City Thunder. With other teams like the Utah Jazz and Memphis Grizzlies breathing down their necks, it appears that the Clippers’ road just got a whole lot more difficult.
“And now, your starting lineups...”
Expected Starting Lineups
PG - Ricky Rubio
SG - Zach LaVine
SF - Andrew Wiggins
PF - Gorgui Dieng
C - Karl-Anthony Towns
Los Angeles Clippers
PG - Raymond Felton
SG - J.J. Redick
SF - Austin Rivers
PF - Luc Mbah a Moute
C - DeAndre Jordan
Timberwolves: Nikola Pekovic (ankle) is OUT.
Clippers: Chris Paul (thumb) and Blake Griffin (knee) are OUT.
As we always do in game previews, let’s take a look at how the Wolves and Clippers match up using the Four Factors. Reminder, the Four Factors are effective field goal percentage (eFG%), turnover percentage (TOV%), offensive rebounding percentage (ORB%), and free throw rate (FTR).
Factor / Wolves / Clippers
eFG% / 50.5% / 53.0%
TOV% / 15.3 / 13.4
ORB% / 27.5% / 22.1%
FTR / .285 / .306
While the Clippers have been a juggernaut on both sides of the court so far this season (5th in offensive rating and 6th in defensive rating), all real analysis of them goes out the window without their leader and Point God Chris Paul. All things considered, without CP3 and Blake tonight, the Wolves have no excuses not to go into Staples Center and come away with their first road win or 2017.
PREDICTION: Wolves 108, Clippers 99