L.A. Clippers vs. Minnesota Timberwolves: Preview, Analysis and Predictions

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L.A. Clippers vs. Minnesota Timberwolves: Preview, Analysis and Predictions
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Lob City will entertain the masses tonight on a whole different level. That is, the Los Angeles Clippers will take on the Minnesota Timberwolves on national television.

It's going to be a tough game for Minnesota. They have lost four games in a row, are devastated by injuries and will not have an easy time against Los Angeles. The Clippers have already beaten the Timberwolves once this season and are well on their way to a lucrative postseason.

That isn't to say that Minnesota is destined to lose. They are, after all, the home team, and have managed to go 10-5 at the Target Center this year. For all we know, they could catch Los Angeles on an off-night and pull off the upset.

Of course, the odds of that happening are unlikely. The Clippers are in search of their third straight win, and on the national stage, the adrenaline will be flowing faster than usual. If anything, they'll be looking for a complete and utter blowout of the Timberwolves, an approach that can easily backfire just as well as it can mightily succeed.

 

Time: Thursday, January 17th, 8 p.m. EST

TV: TNT

Records: Los Angeles Clippers (30-9) vs. Minnesota Timberwolves (16-19)

Betting Line: Not available as of Thursday, January 17, 8:24 a.m. EST

Injuries: Chris Paul (knee, day-to-day), Trey Thompkins (knee, out), Chauncey Billups (foot, out), Brandon Roy (knee, out), Chase Budinger (knee, out), Malcolm Lee (knee, out), Kevin Love (hand, out), Alexey Shved (illness, day-to-day), Lazar Hayward (illness, day-to-day), Andrei Kirilenko (illness, day-to-day)

 

Key Storyline: Can Minnesota Stop Lob City and Pull Off Upset?

Though the odds are not necessarily in the Timberwolves' favor, they do have the advantage of not only playing at home, but also knowing what to expect from this Clippers team. Both squads faced off at the Staples Center, and the game was quite close.

The Clippers ended up winning 101-95, thanks to 23 points and 11 assists from Chris Paul, but not before facing a tough defensive effort from the Timberwolves. Minnesota held Los Angeles to 21 percent three-point shooting and also out-rebounded them 52-35.

But the circumstances are different for the Timberwolves this time. Star forward and double-double machine Kevin Love is out after reinjuring the hand that kept him out for the first month of the season, and Minnesota as a whole is more a walking infirmary than they are a basketball team.

The Clippers, on the other hand, are running on all cylinders. They have proved each of the past two games that they have what it takes to win without star point man and team leader Chris Paul, and playing injury-riddled Minnesota could very well be a walk in the park for them.

Just the same, the Timberwolves are feisty. Four-game losing streak or not, they have their home crowd backing them and could easily pull off an upset if certain chips fall into place.

 

Key Matchup: DeAndre Jordan vs. Nikola Pekovic

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

As inconsistent as the Timberwolves have been this season, they have still managed to do well in one department: Rebounding. Minnesota ranks fifth in that, while Los Angeles is only 19th.

Thus, if the Timberwolves are to have any shot at winning this game, Nikola Pekovic needs to give a solid performance in the paint. He has done well this season, posting 16.4 points and 8.6 rebounds per game.

Pekovic's ability to play the low post effectively makes his matchup with the Clippers' DeAndre Jordan all the more interesting. Both men are 6'11", but Pekovic is 290 pounds compared to Jordan's 265. This can definitely give him an advantage in his approach, but Jordan is not to be taken lightly.

Jordan's greatest skill is that he is a pure defensive center, preferring to use his body to dominate the paint on the defensive end rather than try and do both, as Pekovic does. This is not a bad thing by any means, as Jordan is more valuable to the Clippers on defense. However, when he does rise above the rim for either a dunk or a blocked shot, it somehow manages to be electrifying.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

He's going to need to bring that defensive intensity against Pekovic tonight. The last time these teams faced off, Pekovic scored 11 points and had 10 rebounds, albeit on 5-of-13 shooting. Jordan also had a good game, scoring 15 points to go with six rebounds, two steals and two blocks.

Both men will thus be ready to go at it again tonight, though Pekovic's performance is more important to the outcome of the game. If he can get past Jordan's defense and also out-rebound him, then the Timberwolves just might have a chance.

 

X-Factor: Jamal Crawford

Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

After signing a three-year deal over the summer, Jamal Crawford has been an excellent spark off of the Clippers bench. He has averaged 16.6 points in 29 minutes per game and has shot 37 percent from long range. The man can make shots from virtually anywhere on the floor, making him a perfect fit in Los Angeles' fast-paced offense.

In the event that Chris Paul misses a third straight game tonight, Crawford needs to be great against Minnesota. He scored 11 points against Minnesota back on November 28, but shot just 2-of-10 from the field and 1-of-5 from long range.

Crawford has a knack for making shots from anywhere on the floor and needs to have a better game against Minnesota tonight...chart via NBA.com

That simply cannot be the case tonight. Crawford is likely going to be guarded by a fairly weak defender in either Alexey Shved or Luke Ridnour and must use his superior skills to drive the lane, create off the dribble and do impressive work from beyond the arc.

That isn't to say that the Clippers are destined to lose if Crawford is off his game tonight. They are a deeply talented team and have plenty of players capable of picking up the slack in the event of one having an off-night.

However, based solely on his performance against the Timberwolves in November, Crawford needs to be better tonight. Throw in that Paul may not play, and his doing well becomes all the more important. With Minnesota playing to break a losing streak, his having an off-game could prove to be quite a momentum-shifter.

 

Depth Charts

Clippers

depth chart via espn.com

 

Timberwolves

depth chart via espn.com

 

Prediction

As much as Minnesota and its fans would love to see the losing streak snapped tonight, it's just not going to happen. Too many key players are either injured or sick, and an upset is highly unlikely unless someone suddenly pulls a Michael Jordan and just has a ridiculous game.

The odds of that happening are slim, so the Clippers will control this game from start to finish. Blake Griffin will have another monster game, complete with some thunderous dunks that even fire up the Minnesota fans. DeAndre Jordan and Nikola Pekovic will battle to a stalemate in the paint, though Jordan will have more blocks than his opponent.

Who will win?

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This will leave the door open for Jamal Crawford to have an excellent game. Be it Chris Paul or Eric Bledsoe getting him the ball, he will take control on offense when given the opportunity and sink shot after shot, especially in clutch situations. This will lead him to another great scoring night, meeting double figures and then some.

As a result, the Clippers will win their third straight game. Minnesota, on the other hand, will be left wondering how to overcome their multitude of injuries.

Los Angeles Clippers 106, Minnesota Timberwolves 94

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