The last time the Minnesota Timberwolves hit the road, some weaknesses were exposed, making a West Coast swing that starts Monday an opportunity to see what lessons were learned.
For the Los Angeles Clippers, who will play host to Minnesota on Monday night, they will get a chance to patch some defensive holes that led to a 125-113 defeat at Utah on Saturday.
The Timberwolves and Clippers not only meet for the third time this season, they square off as playoff-eligible squads, with Minnesota holding the fourth spot in the Western Conference and the Clippers having recently moved into the eighth and final spot.
The Timberwolves won both meetings against the Clippers, with the final duel not until March 20 at Minnesota. By then, the playoff worthiness of both squads will have shown itself.
The Timberwolves looked dialed in during a five-game win streak in early January, but recent defeats at Orlando and Houston had them hitting the reset button. They certainly looked back on track with a victory Saturday over Toronto, currently the No. 2 team in the Eastern Conference.
And considering that the victory came without team leader Jimmy Butler (knee) and veteran reserve Jamal Crawford (toe), there are fewer team-wide concerns at the start of this trip to L.A., Portland and Golden State. Butler and Crawford, a former Clipper, are listed as questionable for Monday.
“As long as we play hard, we feel like we’re going to have a chance to win every night,” Timberwolves head coach Tom Thibodeau told reporters after Saturday’s victory when asked about playing short-handed. “I thought our guys played extremely hard (against Toronto), they played together, they played for each other and when you do that, you’re always going to have a chance to win.”
The Clippers know all about stepping up in the absence of teammates. Every player in the starting lineup on opening night has missed a chunk of time, with DeAndre Jordan still out with a sprained left ankle. He will not play Monday, his fifth consecutive game on the bench.
The Clippers also will be without forward Danilo Gallinari (glute) and guard Austin Rivers (ankle). Forward Blake Griffin is back now after a month away because of a knee injury, while guard Patrick Beverley has already been lost for the season following knee surgery.
Yet the Clippers had forged a six-game winning streak before losing to the Jazz over the weekend. It was their first game outside of California since Dec. 23.
Guard Lou Williams has been an offensive savior, scoring 23.4 points a game, while playing most of the season as the first player off the bench. It has been enough to spur talk of an All-Star Game appearance. So what does Williams think?
“Honestly, I deserve it,” Williams said, according to the Los Angeles Times. “I rarely speak about myself because I’ve never set personal goals.
“Being an All-Star wasn’t even on my radar this year. But with what this team has been through this year with injuries, with so many different lineups and still having an opportunity to compete for the playoffs and to put ourselves over .500 at this point, I think I’ve got something to do with that.”
The Timberwolves have won the last four meetings against the Clippers and are one victory away from tying last year’s total of 31. The Clippers have won four consecutive home games and 12 of their past 16 contests overall.
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