The Los Angeles Clippers’ climb up the ladder in the Western Conference standings will make its next stop at Minnesota against a Timberwolves team that just emerged from a losing streak.
Hovering toward the bottom of playoff-eligible teams as recently as last week, the Clippers moved into the No. 5 spot in the Western Conference after a 124-113 victory Sunday at New York against the Knicks.
With eight games remaining in the regular season, the Clippers are just two games behind the Portland Trail Blazers for fourth place in the conference at the start of play Monday. If they want to continue thinking big, they were three games out of third place.
As the fifth-place team, the Clippers would avoid an opening-round series against any of the top three teams in the West, although they would be in line to face the Golden State Warriors in the second round.
“Keep playing the right way, keep growing as a team, keep getting better,” Clippers forward Montrezl Harrell said after Sunday’s victory over the Knicks. “We want to put ourselves in the best position we can to get into the playoffs. Taking one game at a time, hopefully get into the playoffs and make some noise. That’s what it’s about.”
That team growth will take a bit of a hit moving forward after rookie guard Landry Shamet came away with a left ankle impingement during Sunday’s game. Shamet, who was acquired from the Philadelphia 76ers in February, is not expected to play Tuesday at Minnesota and could miss “a couple of games,” according to head coach Doc Rivers.
Shamet has scored 11.7 points per game in 18 contests (16 starts) with the Clippers. That total is more than two points better than his season average of 9.0 as the sharpshooter has been a key addition to the team’s revamped roster.
Shamet has joined another rookie in the Clippers’ backcourt, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who is in the midst of a string of seven consecutive double-digit scoring games, his longest such run this season.
“We got a good group,” Clippers veteran guard Lou Williams said. “Mentally, we are a very mature team. The young guys that we have are mature beyond their ages. We are rolling and in a good rhythm right now. We got a good mix of guys.”
The Timberwolves were hoping to put together a good group around young players Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, but the season got off to a rough start with Jimmy Butler’s trade request, leading to the firing of coach Tom Thibodeau and last week’s official elimination from playoff contention.
Instead of feeling sorry for themselves, Minnesota got 33 points and 23 rebounds from Towns on Saturday in a 112-99 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies that ended a five-game losing streak. Nobody in the NBA has more 30-20 games this season than Towns’ three.
“It’s a big sense of relief, in a way,” interim Timberwolves head coach Ryan Saunders said of the road victory over the Grizzlies. “I’ve been part of younger groups before in Washington and earlier in Minnesota where, at the end of the year, it can get tough when younger guys are asked to do more. … It’s just good positive reinforcement.”
Minnesota forwards Taj Gibson (calf) and Luol Deng (Achilles) are day-to-day. Point guards Jeff Teague (foot) and Derrick Rose (elbow surgery) are done for the season.
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