THE FACTS: Blake Griffin set a physical tone early, DeAndre Jordan continued it late, and the Los Angeles Clippers opened their eight-game road trip with a push-and-shove 96-90 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves in Target Center. Griffin bulled his way to 12 first-quarter points, including three dunks or layups, and finished with 26 points and 13 rebounds in leading the Clippers to their second straight win, and fourth in a row over Minnesota. Jordan made 6-of-8 shots to add 16 points and 12 rebounds, while Jamal Crawford scored 17 points, nine in the fourth quarter, and Caron Butler nailed a go-ahead 3-pointer in the with 2:45 to play to put Los Angeles ahead for good.
Minnesota got its most physical player back from injury, but even Nikola Pekovic's 17 points and 12 rebounds weren't enough to handle the Clippers and earn Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman a victory in his first game back after missing three weeks for a family emergency. The Wolves trailed by 11 in the second half, but pulled ahead with three minutes to play, then went scoreless until 8.7 seconds remained in the game, dooming them to their sixth straight loss.
QUOTABLE: "We're a nice team. We've got a bunch of nice guys. But we need to be a little tougher. That's something we've got to work on, stop being too nice."
-- Wolves guard J.J. Barea
THE STAT: 5 -- Consecutive scoreless possessions by Minnesota after taking a one-point lead with three minutes to play, a crumble-down-the-stretch slump that cost them a winnable game. Ricky Rubio missed three shots in that stretch, Andrei Kirilenko had a miss and a turnover, and L.A. scored eight consecutive points to pull out their fourth straight victory over the Timberwolves.
TURNING POINT: Minnesota led by a point, 88-87, with 3 minutes to play in the game, and Jamal Crawford had scored eight of the Clippers' 11 points in the period. Vinny Del Negro called time out, and emphasized better ball movement. They must have listened: Caron Butler nailed a 3-pointer from the corner on the Clippers' next possession, and L.A. outscored the Wolves 9-2 the rest of the way, with four different Clippers contributing points.
QUOTABLE II: "I watched Ricky's eyes. You know he's a pass-first guy, and if you watch his eyes, you get an idea where he's going with it."
-- L.A. point guard Eric Bledsoe, on his six-steal night, including a couple of steals at the expense of Rubio
HOT: Blake Griffin has carried the Clippers' offense with Chris Paul out of action, and he was dominating again Wednesday, leading the Clippers in points (26) and rebounds (13). Griffin, named an All-Star starter earlier this month, has averaged 23.7 points and 5.7 assists on offense in the past six games, and his defense hasn't been bad, either: 9.7 rebounds and 2.3 steals.
NOT: The Clippers are only 2-3 since Chris Paul was sidelined by a bruised kneecap, and the stress is showing on their guard line. L.A.'s three backcourt players -- Bledsoe, Willie Green and Jamal Crawford -- combined to make only 8-of-31 shots (25.8 percent), and starting point guard Eric Bledsoe was 3-of-14 with five turnovers by himself. In his defense, however, Paul's backup did contribute 10 assists and six steals.
FANTASY SPOTLIGHT: Nikola Pekovic returned to the Wolves after missing five games with a bruised thigh, and he immediately reclaimed his place at the heart of Minnesota's offense. Pekovic's 17 points and 12 rebounds led the Wolves in both categories, and gave him 14 double-doubles on the season, which ties him for the team lead with injured forward Kevin Love.
GOOD MOVE: Rick Adelman stuck with Barea at point guard for all but the final four minutes of the fourth quarter, and Vinny Del Negro made the Wolves pay for it with a lopsided matchup. He pulled point guard Eric Bledsoe early in the fourth quarter, and put the ball in the hands of sixth man Jamal Crawford. With a 6-inch height advantage over the almost-6-foot Barea, Crawford, held to eight points in the first three quarters, scored nine in the fourth, including eight of their first 11 in the period.
BAD MOVE: Matt Barnes objected to the physical screens being set by Minnesota backup center Greg Stiemsma midway through the second quarter, and after one particularly hard collision, he struck back. On Minnesota's next possession, Barnes ran into Stiemsma, backed up a step, then shoved him again, this time with his hands striking Stiemsma's face. The play was ruled a Flagrant 2, and Barnes was ejected. A minute later, Stiemsma knocked Grant Hill to the ground while jumping for a rebound -- the play was ruled a Flagrant 1 foul on Stiemsma -- and when Caron Butler and Rony Turiaf grabbed his jersey, both were whistled for technical fouls.
ROOKIE WATCH: Guard Alexey Shved was eager to get back on the floor after missing five games with a sprained left ankle, but the time off didn't cure his shooting slump. The Russian guard missed two of his first nine shots on Wednesday, and finished the game 5-of-13, including 1-of-6 on 3-pointers. That brings Shved's shooting to 12-of-46 (26.1 percent) for the past five games he's played, and 30-of-108 (27.8 percent) in January.
NOTABLE: Minnesota coach Adelman was on the sidelines for the first time since Jan. 5, after missing 11 games while his wife Mary Kay was hospitalized as doctors searched for the cause of recent seizures. She has returned home, Adelman said, and he believes he won't need to miss another game or practice. The Wolves went 2-9 while Terry Porter filled in for Adelman. ... Center Pekovic and guard Shved played for the first time since the Wolves last faced the Clippers, Jan. 17 in Los Angeles, missing five games apiece. ... Forward Mickael Gelabale and center Chris Johnson signed their second 10-day contracts with the Wolves, who have an injury exemption that allows them to carry 16 players temporarily. ... The Clippers' bench made only 8-of-23 shots. ... Point guards Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups are not yet in uniform, but both are with the team, and coach Del Negro said it's possible both could return to action during this eight-game road trip. Paul hasn't practiced since suffering a deep bone bruise in his right kneecap; Wednesday was his fifth straight absence, and eighth in 10 games. Billups has played in only three games this season due to tendonitis in his left foot, but returned to practice on Tuesday. He hasn't played since Dec. 3. ... The Clippers improved to 14-8 away from Staples Center, and will play their next seven games on the road. ... Shved has been selected to the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge, to be played Feb. 15 as part of All-Star Weekend in Houston. Shved is the fourth Timberwolves rookie to appear in the game in the past five years, joining Jonny Flynn, Wesley Johnson and Derrick Williams -- none of whom was selected to the game as a sophomore.
UP NEXT: For the Clippers, Friday @ Toronto, Sunday @ Boston, Monday @ Washington. For the Timberwolves, Friday vs. Lakers, Saturday vs. Hornets, Monday vs. Trail Blazers.