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Game Preview #40: Wolves vs Clippers

Minnesota hosts the Los Angeles Clippers one night after LA was blown out in Denver

NBA: Playoffs-Los Angeles Clippers at Minnesota Timberwolves Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports

Game Info

What To Watch For

Who will play for the Clippers?

The story of practically every season for the Los Angeles Clippers has revolved around guys being in and out of the lineup ever since they signed/traded for Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. This season has been no different, and while the Minnesota Timberwolves should be prepared for anyone, it makes it a little tougher to know what to expect ahead of time.

Traditionally, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard do not play both ends of back-to-backs, which would make you assume they’d sit out tonight. They have every reason to be cautious with Kawhi and PG, as George is nursing a hamstring injury and Leonard is still making his way back from a torn ACL. The complicating factor tonight is that Ty Lue benched the Clippers starters at halftime last night against the Nuggets in Denver, which left George and Leonard each under 20 minutes played.

With that in mind, the fact that the Wolves are 4.5-point favorites tonight suggests to me that the good folks at DraftKings do not expect either of George or Leonard to play. If they don’t play, the Wolves absolutely cannot overlook the rest of this Clippers roster. This team has been prone to playing down to the level of their competition, so it’s paramount they play hard no matter who is in front of them. This Clippers team was embarrassed in Denver last night, and will surely be looking to right the ship in this one.

Dealing with small ball

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the Clippers will likely go small tonight. The Wolves are generally a team that leans into playing big, so the question is how they’ll be able to handle that. In the play-in last year, that kind of took care of itself as Karl-Anthony Towns got into foul trouble early, but it’s important that the Wolves find a way to keep Rudy Gobert involved against smaller lineups.

Gobert’s struggles against the Clippers five-out lineups have been well documented, but no George or Leonard tonight would obviously make this matchup more viable for Rudy. Without two lethal isolation and mid-range shooters, the Wolves might be more willing to let Rudy sit in a drop and live with the likes of Reggie Jackson and John Wall taking mid-range jump shots.

The big thing, though, is that Gobert just has to be able to punish smaller players on offense. It’s well established that he’s not going to do that via post-ups, but the best way to beat a switch is by slipping a ball screen. Can Gobert dip out of a screen early AND make himself available to ball handlers? That would be huge. Aside from that, he has to pummel small lineups on the glass. Every offensive rebound has to be his. That is, by far, the easiest way for him to take control of this game against a smaller lineup.

Portland Trail Blazers v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

Could this be a D’Angelo Russell bounce back game?

I know the easy thing to do right now is rag on D’Lo, and there’s certainly some merit to the idea that this team should like at trade scenarios as the February 9th trade deadline approaches. That does nothing for the team on the court tonight, though.

One real strong area of Russell’s game has been his ability to attack a switching defense. He loves to get those switches, dance a little, and then make a play. It’s part of why he was so good in the play-in game against this same Clippers team just last season.

I wouldn’t necessarily expect a 30-point night from Russell, but I also wouldn’t be surprised to see him turn it around a bit and have a good game.

Who will close if the game is tight?

The thing I am most interested to see is who closes in a close game tonight. On Wednesday, D’Angelo Russell started the game, but didn’t play particularly well and thus didn’t finish the game. I would expect that, unless Russell plays better tonight (as I expect he will!), that’s going to be a trend moving forward.

The Wolves seem to have found a formula around Anthony Edwards, which is to insulate him with ball-movers and defenders. The combination of Edwards taking the game over offensively while Gobert takes the game over defensively down the stretch is a good one, and players like Jaden McDaniels, Kyle Anderson, Taurean Prince, and Austin Rivers are all good fits with those two. That group is big, but not so slow that they can’t keep pace with wing-heavy lineups. It’s defense oriented, without taking off so much shooting that the lineup can’t score.

One possibility I’m also interested in — how does this look if Gobert doesn’t play well? Say the Clippers small lineup is once again giving Gobert struggles, could Finch look to downsize even further? What about a lineup consisting of Rivers-Edwards-McDaniels-Prince-Anderson? I have no idea if that group would ever get a defensive rebound, but they could certainly switch most everything and would be able to play a fun drive-and-kick game on offense.

Injury Report

Minnesota Timberwolves

  • Bryn Forbes: QUESTIONABLE — right shoulder soreness
  • Naz Reid: QUESTIONABLE — back spasms
  • Karl-Anthony Towns: OUT — calf strain
  • Jordan McLaughlin: OUT — left calf strain

Los Angeles Clippers

  • Paul George: QUESTIONABLE — right hamstring soreness
  • Kawhi Leonard: QUESTIONABLE — non-COVID illness
  • Nicolas Batum: OUT — left ankle sprain
  • Moussa Diabate: G-League assignment