The Minnesota Timberwolves finally snapped their five-game losing streak with a Tuesday night victory over the Sacramento Kings, and they'll look to get back to .500 when they head to Los Angeles tonight. They'll face the Los Angeles Clippers, who will be seeking to end their four-game losing streak and stay in first place in the Pacific Division. Both teams like to run, so it's bound to be a barn burner.
Minnesota fans are rejoicing now that double-double machine Kevin Love is back in the lineup and doing what he does best. He had 23 points and 24 rebounds against Sacramento, and will try to do more of the same against Los Angeles.
However, the Clippers will likely be playing with an extra bounce in their step tonight. Their four-game losing streak is not indicative of how deep and talented a team they really are, and tonight will be about getting back on track. Lob City is bound to be in full effect against a Minnesota offense that ranks 27th in the league in points scored, with 92.1 per game.
Even more exciting is that tonight will mark the season debut of guard Chauncey Billups, who missed most of last season with a torn Achilles tendon.
The Timberwolves make up for this with their defense, which ranks fifth in points allowed at 92.5. Needless to say, this game should be a lot of fun to watch.
Time: Wednesday, Nov. 28, 10:30 p.m. EST
TV: Fox Sports West 2, Fox Sports North
Records: Minnesota Timberwolves (6-7) vs. Los Angeles Clippers (8-6)
Betting Lines: Minnesota (+8 1/2), Los Angeles (-8 1/2)
Injuries: Grant Hill (knee, out), Trey Thompkins (knee, out), Chase Budinger (knee, out), Ricky Rubio (knee, out), Andrei Kirilenko (back, expected to play)
Key Storyline: Can Lob City Beat Minnesota?
The Timberwolves are back in a competitive groove, even if they still have some key players out with injuries. Kevin Love has electrified the lineup with his athleticism and even though Minnesota lost its first three games with him back, its win against Sacramento will jump-start the collective engine.
It doesn't get any easier for Minnesota tonight. The Clippers have remained in first place, but a four-game losing streak is hanging over them. This should be an easier game for them, but it is anything but that.
Believe it or not, these two teams have some history dating back to last season. On Jan. 20, the Clippers led Minnesota at home with seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. Ricky Rubio sank a game-tying three-pointer, which was followed by a game-winning three by Kevin Love at the buzzer.
Los Angeles was able to beat Minnesota on April 12, but lost the season series 3-1. It gets a chance to draw first blood tonight, when it faces the 'Wolves for the first time. Lob City may have struggled in recent games, but tonight is the team's chance to reestablish its dominance and get back on track.
More importantly, it's an opportunity to expose the young and inexperienced Minnesota players.
Key Matchup: Kevin Love vs. Blake Griffin
This matchup is Kevin Love's to lose. He and Griffin are both 6'10", but the former UCLA Bruin is a far superior defender. Griffin has averaged 11.3 rebounds for his career, but does not fight for them the same way that Love does. Rather, he tends to just take them as they come to him.
Aside from rebounding, both players are fine scorers. Love is averaging 24 points per game since his return, and is picking up where he left off last season. Griffin, however, has not been so lucky.
Due to an injured elbow, plus some new talent on the team, Griffin's scoring has dipped this season. He is averaging just 16.8 points per game. In his team's Monday night loss to the New Orleans Hornets, he scored just four points in 35 minutes.
Both players will thus be in for a tough game playing against one another. Love is going to be taking advantage of the slow-on-his-feet Griffin and go after every rebound. Griffin will look to get back on track and have a fine scoring night, no easy task against someone like Love.
There's a good chance that both players will finish the night in double figures, but the overall importance of their matchup could not be all the more important. The Clippers need Griffin to get back to his true form in order to beat Minnesota, and the Timberwolves need Love to force Griffin into his weak post game and to not rely solely on lobs from teammate Chris Paul.
This will make for an absolute dogfight in the paint, and a great game.
X-Factor: Jamal Crawford
During their losing streak, the Clippers' biggest problem has been lack of production from the second unit. That includes sixth man Jamal Crawford, who has been an electrifying presence off the bench despite recent struggles.
Crawford has averaged 18 points per game and shot 41 percent from long range for the season, but his performance has dropped significantly over his last five games. Over that stretch, he is averaging just 13.2 points and shooting just 33 percent from long range. From the field, he is just 35.5 percent.
The former Michigan Wolverine simply needs to have a good game tonight if the Clippers are going to get back on track. If the starters get tired, Crawford needs to come in and be ready to put up a lot of points in a short amount of time. He may be struggling, but it's time to move past that.
He'll fortunately be guarded by either second-year man Malcolm Lee or rookie Alexey Shved, neither of whom are strong defenders. He must thus use his experience to create off the dribble and also drive to the basket, thus giving the Clippers the spark they need off the bench.
If he can get back to playing like his old self, then the Clippers will have the game in the bag.
Sorry, Minnesota fans, but there won't be another win coming tonight. The Clippers will just be too hungry for a win and desperate to hang onto first place with the Golden State Warriors nipping at their heels.
Minnesota will put up a respectable effort at first, but Lob City will be in full effect and too much for them to handle. Kevin Love will have a good game, but that's about it. The absence of Ricky Rubio will be felt hard as Luke Ridnour is the victim of some tough Chris Paul defense.
Who will win?
Speaking of Paul, look for him to have a good scoring night as well as a fine evening in both passing and defense. He'll find men open for three-pointers, and also throw up some signature lobs that will be answered with phenomenal dunks.
Jamal Crawford will be a spark off the bench and the rest of the second unit will follow. The Clippers will put on an offensive show tonight, with every lead protected by solid defense in the paint courtesy of DeAndre Jordan.
It won't be a blowout, but one thing is certain. The Clippers will be back in action, and all Minnesota will be able to do is watch.
Los Angeles Clippers 111, Minnesota Timberwolves 99