The return of guard Chauncey Billups will likely overshadow everything else Wednesday night when the Timberwolves take on the Clippers at Staples Center, but there is plenty more at stake.
The Clippers (8-6) enter the game on a four-game losing streak, juxtaposed from nine days ago when the team was 8-2 and widely considered one of the best two or three teams in the league. Four games have not likely changed their spot among the elite. But there are still areas of concern for Head Coach Vinny Del Negro, who listed the defensive execution and a stagnant offense as two of his major points of correction.
The struggles have been evident on both ends of the floor. They are scoring 5.2 points per game less than they were during their previous six-game winning streak and allowing opponents to score 16.8 points per game over the same stretch.
On Wednesday they will face Minnesota (6-7), a team that’s lost five of its last six and on the second night of a back-to-back. The Clippers, however, while playing the toughest schedule in the league based on opponents’ winning percentage, are 0-2 this season against teams that entered the game under .500. Both losses have come at Staples Center.
Billups could help curtail the losing streak. The 36-year-old guard is expected to make his season debut less than 10 months after surgery to repair a torn left Achilles tendon.
LAST TIME OUT
Hornets 105, Clippers 98: The Clippers lost for the fourth time in a row, but not before Caron Butler and his teammates took down a handful of franchise records in the process. Butler, who entered the game four for his last 15 from the field, made a team-record nine 3-pointers and scored a season-high 33 points, including 18 points in the third quarter. L.A. made 18 3-pointers in the game, another franchise record, but New Orleans countered with 15 of their own. Greivis Vasquez scored 25 with 10 assists, six rebounds and eight turnovers for the Hornets, who snapped a seven-game losing streak.
“We didn’t get enough stops defensively,” Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said. “They made a ton of threes. They got to the line. They spread us out. We couldn’t control Vasquez off the dribble. We couldn’t control [Austin] Rivers off the dribble. We didn’t switch out on [Ryan] Anderson when we were supposed to. Start to finish, poor effort, poor energy. We pretty much got beat in every category.”
Timberwolves 97, Kings 89: The Wolves pulled themselves out of a five-game skid, thanks in large part to Kevin Love’s 23 points and 24 rebounds. After a slow start the All-Star forward scored nine points with 10 rebounds in the third quarter to help Minnesota pull away. The Kings hung around into the fourth, but with the shot clock about to expire Love heaved in a desperation shot with 26.8 seconds to go, extending Minnesota’s lead to eight. All five starters for the Wolves scored in double figures, while Sacramento was led by guard Tyreke Evans’ 20 points, seven rebounds and six assists.
Blake Griffin vs. Kevin Love. Griffin is coming off arguably the worst game of his career. He had career lows in points (four) and field goals (one) and missed eight of his nine shots before fouling out with 2:36 left in Monday’s lost to the Hornets. After the game Griffin said he “just missed some shots” when asked about his 1-for-9 performance. On the other side is Love, who is averaging 24 points and 16.5 rebounds in four games since returning from a broken hand.
“Kevin’s very skilled,” Del Negro said. “He can stretch you out, post you up and plays hard. The ball gets in his hands a lot. Blake will obviously be matched up with him and we’ve got to do a better job, not only with Blake, but as a team, making things as difficult as possible and taking away the easy ones.”
Griffin has gotten the best of Love in the seven games the two have played head-to-head. Griffin is averaging 26.1 points, 10.3 rebounds, 4.1 assists and shooting 55.2% as compared to 19.6, 13.0, 2.1 and 47% for Love.
The Clippers are shooting 43% from the field over their last four games (all losses) and have scored 19 points or fewer in five of their last 12 quarters… The Timberwolves will be without Brandon Roy (knee), Ricky Rubio (knee) and Chase Budinger (knee) on Wednesday. In Tuesday’s game against Sacramento, head coach Rick Adelman used four reserves, including Josh Howard who played just 7 minutes… The Clippers lost three of their four games against the Wolves last season, including one game with Billups in the lineup.