Jan. 24, 2013; Phoenix, AZ, USA: Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) against the Phoenix Suns at the US Airways Center. The Suns defeated the Clippers 93-88. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Preview: Los Angeles Clippers (33-13) @ Minnesota Timberwolves (17-24)

The Clippers are dealing with the bruised right kneecap of starting point guard Chris Paul. It has forced Paul to miss 7 of the past 9 games. The Clippers are 5-4 over that span. Still, they are seeded 3rd in the Western Conference, 2 1/2 games behind 1st place San Antonio and 3 games ahead of 4th seeded Memphis. Though it seems they have weathered the storm without their floor general, the seems could be starting to show. The Clippers are 1-4 over their last 5, having lost games by single digits on the road to Phoenix, Portland, and Golden State.

Clippers probable starting lineup:

PG Eric Bledsoe

SG Willie Green

SF Caron Butler

PF Blake Griffin

C DeAndre Jordan

Griffin has been carrying the load, averaging 23 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals and a block on 58% shooting over the last 5. His 69% free throw percentage over the same span is 9 above his career mark.

When Paul first went down with his injury, the press was touting Bledsoe as the best backup point guard in the game. (Such illustrious tools as Chris Broussard and this waste of web time worked themselves into quite a lather over the trade stock possibilities.) But a funny thing about backups is, more often than not, there is a reason, a specific flaw or weakness needing development before they can become starters.

Bledsoe has started the last 4 games and shot 38% (18-47) from the field while the Clips have scored over 100 points once in that span. I’m not saying Bledsoe is Rodney Stuckey, but he rebounds well and takes care of the ball — witness his 5.7 rebounds and a 3.4/1 assist to turnover ratio over the last 4 — well enough to show he has strengths, and he is definitely strong in the open floor, but like another young point guard we know, he can’t shoot. However, unlike that other point guard we know, as a starter, Bledsoe shoots a bit more than his percentages indicate he should.

Remember that $43 million/4-year contract offer the Warriors gave the Clips to match? Jordan is giving them 22 minutes a game with 6 rebounds, a block and 39% from the free throw line in the new year as Los Angeles often opts to play a smaller lineup in crunch time.

Lamar Odom is averaging 25 minutes, just under 8 rebounds and 3 assists this month.

Wolves probable starting lineup:

PG Ricky Rubio

SG Luke Ridnour

SF Andrei Kirilenko

PF Derrick Williams

C Nikola Pekovic

Alexey Shved and Pek are said to make their return after both falling to injury the last time these two teams played. Since then, 10-day contractors Chris Johnson and Mickael Gelabale have been both saviors and head scratchers, but been kept on.

Rick Adelman makes his return tonight after a 3-week absence tending to his ailing wife, ending a merciless 11 game run where the Wolves won but 2 games.

Derrick Williams situation should be put on high alert, as Adelman already says he envisions playing Pek together with lean shot blocker Johnson. Williams hasn’t wowed in Adelman’s absence, averaging 11 points, 5 rebounds and 41% shooting while proving every bit as inconsistent, albeit with a greater latitude under Terry Porter, as Adelman.

Much maligned sieve, Ridnour, has been one of the relative offensive pillars the Wolves can lean on. Playing out of position (or in his rightful position, depending on your perspective) at shooting guard, Ridnour has shot 49% from the field, scored 15 points a game, while hitting 39% from 3 and averaged 4 rebounds and assists in 35 minutes a game. Shved’s availability will hopefully cut more into JJ Barea’s minutes than Ridnour’s.

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Tags: Los Angeles Clippers Minnesota Timberwolves Pregame Preview

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