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Game Preview #53: Wolves at Clippers

Monte Morris will make his Timberwolves debut as Minnesota kicks off a West Coast road trip in L.A. against Kawhi Leonard and the surging Clippers.

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Los Angeles Clippers v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

Anthony Edwards and the first place Minnesota Timberwolves will begin a three-game West Coast road trip in the City of Angels against Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, James Harden and the second place Los Angeles Clippers on Monday night.

If Minnesota can come away victorious, they’ll clinch at least a share of the four-game season series. The Wolves defeated the Clippers 109-105 in Minneapolis back on January 14.


Game Info

  • Who: Minnesota Timberwolves (36-16) at Los Angeles Clippers (35-16)
  • When: Monday, February 12th at 9:30 PM CT
  • Where: Crypto.com Arena — Los Angeles, California
  • TV: Bally Sports North Extra / NBA TV
  • Radio: Wolves App, iHeart Radio
  • Line: Wolves +5 | Total: 224 (courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook)

Injury Report

Updated as of Monday 2/12 at 8:00 PM CT

Minnesota

AVAILABLE:

  • Jaden McDaniels (left index finger sprain)
  • Monte Morris (trade)

OUT:

  • Jaylen Clark (right Achilles tendon rupture rehab)
  • Leonard Miller (G League assignment)

Los Angeles

No injuries to report (not a typo)


What to Watch For

New Wolves PG Monte Morris
@Timberwolves on Twitter

A New Wolf Joins the Pack

Monday night’s contest will be the Wolves debut for new trade acquisition Monte Morris. The veteran point guard is still recovering from a right quadriceps strain that caused him to miss the first 43 games of the season. Morris hasn’t played in more than 16 minutes since debuting for the Detroit Pistons back on January 24, so don’t expect big minutes from the 28-year-old floor general.

But when he is on the floor, there is no reason Morris can’t hit the ground running. He is a quick decision-maker, repeatedly makes correct reads and delivers on-time, on-target passes, and has a good feel for when to impact the game as a scorer. Defenses will respect his scoring and shooting more than Jordan McLaughlin, Nickeil Alexander-Walker or Kyle Anderson, so that should make the game easier for those he’s playing with, too.

I’m most curious to see which bigs Morris will play with. Wolves Head Coach Chris Finch always brings Naz Reid in for one of the two bigs near the around the 4:00 mark of the first quarter (and then flips it so the other big comes out at that time in the third quarter), but there is no consistency with the order. My guess is we see Morris play more with Rudy Gobert, as the ex-Nugget’s floor spacing matters more with Rudy out there than Karl-Anthony Towns.

Since January 1, most of the Gobert/Kyle Anderson lineups have been positive, but if you add McLaughlin, it’s been a -24.5 NET in 35 minutes across 11 games. The duo is a +4.8 in 1,066 possessions this year — it’s an effective one, but one that needs the right pieces around it. Morris certainly could help alleviate that, alongside two of Edwards, Alexander-Walker and Reid.

However, with Morris’s play (rather than lineup combinations) in mind, overanalyzing each game he plays for the next couple weeks while still recovering from a three-month-long absence probably isn’t going to be as worthwhile as we may think it is. Morris has been a very good player in the NBA for a long time, and deserves the benefit of the doubt in terms of playing his way back into shape while trying to find his bearings with a new squad.

Los Angeles Clippers v Minnesota Timberwolves Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

Limiting Paul George

Leonard is unquestionably the head of the very venomous proverbial snake is that is the Clippers’ second-ranked offense, but George is the player that I’d focus more of the gameplan on tonight. The reason for that is because when George struggles, Los Angeles has a much more difficult time scaling up other players’ offensive output to make up for his lack of scoring.

George, not Leonard, takes the most shots for the Clippers (17.3 per game to Kawhi’s 17.1), and has a much more stark difference in production in wins compared to losses than Leonard — especially from an efficiency standpoint. PG so far this season...

  • in wins: 23.5 PPG on 48.8/44.5/89.3 shooting splits (62.5% TS)
  • in losses: 20.6 PPG on 40.3/31.4/93.1 shooting splits (54.2% TS)

The Wolves did an excellent job of switching up who defended George, who is a killer playing as the lead scorer in blended lineups. Edwards, Jaden McDaniels and Kyle Anderson spent the most time defending him, while Towns and Gobert did an excellent job defending George’s mid-range pull-ups and shots in the paint.

A key reason they put different bodies on George is simply that the Finch put lineups on the floor that could switch effectively on the perimeter and bother the Clippers’ wings. Alexander-Walker and Anderson are incredibly valuable defenders in that they afford Finch and his staff flexibility in how they want to construct a defensive game plan.

In the first quarter, Anderson joined a lineup of Edwards, McDaniels, Reid and Towns to offset some of the size and length lost in swapping out Gobert for Reid — a key reason Minnesota won the frame 29-19. Then in the third, NAW played alongside Edwards, Anderson/McDaniels, Reid and Gobert to add more perimeter defense and offensive spacing around Gobert while Towns was out; the Timberwolves won that period 35-23.

While the Clippers’ hall-of-fame-bound Big 3 (yes, Paul George is a HOFer) is obviously a lethal trio that maximize offensive floor spacing and scoring efficiency, they also aren’t going to blow past many guards or wings on the dribble — something that plays into the Wolves’ stable of tall, long defenders who have struggled to stay with quicker players all season long.

Expect the Wolves switch in mostly blended lineups (Ex: NAW/Slow-Mo in for Conley or Reid in for Towns/Gobert), and play some zone when Russell Westbrook is on the floor with the Clippers’ bench.