Preview: Los Angeles Clippers (30-9) @ Minnesota Timberwolves (16-19)

When the Clippers and Wolves met in Los Angeles back on November 28th, the Clippers were just 8-6, welcoming Chauncey Billups back to the court after blowing up his achilles, and getting ready to go undefeated for the rest of 2012 — rattling off 17 wins in a row before falling in Denver to begin the new year. Their 20-3 record since they last saw the Wolves has propelled them to the 2nd best record in the league.

PG Eric Bledsoe

SG Willie Green

SF Caron Butler

PF Blake Griffin

C DeAndre Jordan

Since that streak ended, the Clippers have gone 5-3 in 2013 and dealt with a few injuries to both stars (Chris Paul) and reserves (Chauncey Billups) while welcoming a new one into the fray (Grant Hill made his Clipper debut last week).

Paul is listed as a game-time decision, after missing the last two Clipper wins with a knee issue.

Over the last 5 games Griffin has averaged over 5.5 assists and 3.6 turnovers a game (also, just  just over 7 rebounds). He’s attempting the 13th most free throws in the league (5.5) while shooting 63%.

(Just for comparison: for the season Kevin Love was averaging 8 free throw attempts a game at 70% and 14 rebounds with an iffy shooting hand.)

Butler, a career 33% 3-point shooter, this season (bolstered by a 48% November) has jumped above 40% from 3 while his shooting everywhere else has dipped to 41% (from his career 44%).

6th man — and last offseason’s could’ve-been Wolves target — Jamal Crawford, after shooting 39% from 3 for November, shot 32% for December, and is back up around 40% for January. His overall field goal percentage has been at his career mark of 40% since starting off the year at a relatively red hot 43%.

Wolves probable starting lineup:

PG Luke Ridnour

SG Alexey Shved

SF Andrei Kirilenko

PF Dante Cunningham

C Nikola Pekovic

Relying more on being more physically overpowering than Paul’s style of craftiness in the pick and roll, Bledsoe would actually seem a tougher cover for Ridnour than Paul. Of his 12 shots against the Rockets, Bledsoe took 3 outside the paint (and made them, but still). Not that anyone Ridnour guards is going to really notice he’s there, but Bledsoe runs the Clippers differently — specifically, through Blake Griffin.

The Clippers lead the league in steals per game, thanks in no small part to Paul, individually, being the league-leader. However, they are also 6th in the league in blocks, and both contribute to the Clippers leading the league in turnovers forced.

All of which makes for a tough script for tonight’s Wolves to follow.

The last 4 losses have shown the Wolves could use some home cooking. Practicing only 8 players due to illness yesterday, the Wolves infirmary has been full all year and an outbreak of influenza will only make it more crowded.

Ricky Rubio was scheduled to meet with the Wolves’ medical staff to seek a raise in his minutes restriction (if not a complete lift). Rubio’s eventual clearance and accompanying improvement, along with signing and/or trading for a shooter when Lazar Hayward’s 10-day contract is up would provide a nice respite.

Adelman visited the team Wednesday and will not return to the bench tonight, but anything positive — and the team seeing its head coach face-to-face, at this point, is enough to be considered a positive — any positive development for this team right now is a lonesome step in the right direction.

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Tags: Los Angeles Clippers Minnesota Timberwolves Preview

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