The Minnesota Timberwolves take on the LA Clippers tonight in a potentially important game for playoff seeding. What are three things to watch?
Tonight the Minnesota Timberwolves will host the LA Clippers for the second of three games this between the two teams this season. It will look a lot different than the first matchup back on Nov. 5, however.
Both teams have shaken things up over time. A week after the first matchup, Minnesota dealt Jimmy Butler to Philadelphia in exchange for Robert Covington and Dario Saric. For the Clippers, Tobias Harris and Boban Marjanovic started while Mike Scott played 17 minutes off the bench. Before the trade deadline, all three of them joined Butler in Philadelphia.
While Covington is working his way back from a bone bruise suffered almost six weeks ago, he will miss this game (along with Tyus Jones and possibly Derrick Rose).
LA’s lineup has drastically changed since the deadline, adding Ivica Zubac, Garrett Temple, JaMychal Green, and Landry Shamet into the fold. In the Clippers’ first post-deadline game, they overcame a 28-point deficit in Boston to beat the Celtics, 123-112.
While they moved their best player in Harris, the Clippers still have a feisty bunch that could cause issues for the Timberwolves — who currently stand four games behind the Clips in the loss column.
1. 3-point shooting
Since Robert Covington went down with injury, the Timberwolves have actually done a decent job defending the perimeter — allowing opponents to shoot 35 percent from 3, ninth in the league (Subscription, Cleaning the Glass).
In the same time frame, LA has shot 39.8 percent from deep — fourth in the league.
As stated earlier, the Clippers have changed immensely over the past week, so these numbers aren’t as applicable. In their comeback win over Boston, however, LA shot 12-of-30 — 40 percent. Since January 1, Boston has held opponents to 34.8 percent from deep.
In his Clippers debut, Shamet had four triples off the bench. Temple had two. Those were the two standout shooters in the Boston win, though Lou Williams and Danilo Gallinari are more than capable of getting hot from deep as well.
2. LA’s Bench Mob, still in its infancy
Montrezl Harrell has been killing it off the pine this season in LA, averaging a career-high 15.8 points (62.3 percent shooting), 6.6 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks per game. He has played next to Lou Williams who, while not absolutely murdering it like last season, is still a flamethrower in reserve lineups.
Now, after LA’s deadline dealings, Shamet is added into the group alongside Green. The Clippers may not have a standout player after trading Harris, but they have a balanced rotation with equally talented players backing up the starters.
Teams can’t catch a breath when the starters sit.
Minnesota will have to stay on its toes for all 48 minutes.
3. Free throw differential
Since Jan. 1, the Clippers are fifth in the league in free throw rate — with the two bench stars Williams and Harrell leading the way (combined 11.1 per game combined on the season). Minnesota is 18th in the league in the rate they commit a foul.
The Wolves do a decent job drawing fouls themselves, ranking 11th in 2019. The Clippers foul at an even higher rate than Minnesota, ranking 27th in the same time frame.
This game may very well come down to who defends the smartest. A team can foul at a low rate but give up too many points or defend aggressively but commit too many fouls.
Finding the balance there could be a huge factor in determining who comes out on top in this one.