PREGAME REPORT | JANUARY 30, 2013

 



Tipoff: 5:00 p.m. PST | Target Center | Minneapolis, MN | Game Notes »

                           

ERIC PATTEN

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MINNEAPOLIS – The Clippers’ eight-game, two-week road trip begins Wednesday at Target Center where they take on the Minnesota Timberwolves for the second time this month.

The trip, which ends Feb. 11 in Philadelphia, spans more than 7,500 miles.

“It’s going to be pretty hard, but we’re looking forward to the challenge though,” Eric Bledsoe said.

The Clippers (33-13) remain atop the Pacific Division, but the belief, at least according to Lamar Odom, is that they will have a better idea of where they stand in comparison to the rest of the NBA once they return from a trip that will consume nearly 20% of their road games in one fell swoop.

It will likely begin without Chris Paul, who is considered a game-time decision with a bruised right kneecap, and Chauncey Billups, who continues to work his way back from peroneal tendinitis in his left foot. Both Paul and Billups are with the team on the trip.

The Timberwolves (17-24) enter Wednesday’s matchup on a four-game losing streak, the same number of games they had lost in a row before facing the Clippers two weeks ago in the Twin Cities. The Clippers won that game, 90-77, and Minnesota, ravaged by injuries, through most of the season lost center Nikola Pekovic to a bruised quad in the third quarter.

Minnesota is 1-9 in their last 10 games, but Pekovic is expected to return Wednesday as is guard Alexey Shved (sprained ankle).

Head Coach Rick Adelman will make his return to the sideline as well. Adelman missed the previous 11 games to be with his wife, Mary Kay, while she was undergoing medical treatment.

LAST TIME OUT

Clippers 96, Trail Blazers 83: In their fourth straight game without Paul, the Clippers erased a four-game losing streak (Paul last played in their Jan. 21 loss to Golden State), by pulling away from Portland in the second half Sunday. It was the second of two games in row against the Blazers and came less than 24 hours after a one-point loss in the Northwest. On Sunday, though, the Clippers’ defense appeared back to where it was earlier in the season.

“We obviously executed a little better,” Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said. “I liked our intensity in the second half, did a better job guarding the three. [Nicolas] Batum, [Wesley] Matthews, obviously [Damian] Lillard, they get [shots] up and we were very productive there. But overall I thought our intensity was good in the second half defensively.”

Portland shot 43.9% and Lillard missed nine of his 14 field goal attempts. Blake Griffin finished with 23 points, nine assists and five rebounds and was one of 11 Clippers to score six or more points. Bledsoe added 10 points, five assists and five rebounds, starting in place of Paul, and Lamar Odom scored eight points with 13 rebounds and six assists off the bench.

The Clippers led by as many as 19 points in the second half and out-scored Portland 23-12 in the third quarter.

Bobcats 102, Timberwolves 101: Gerald Henderson connected on a 3-pointer with 4.6 seconds left Saturday to end Charlotte’s misery at home and extend Minnesota’s misery this month. The Timberwolves lost for the fourth time in a row and 11th time in January, while Henderson’s shot helped snap a 16-game losing streak at Time Warner Cable Arena for the Bobcats. Henderson finished with 15 points and Kemba Walker had 25 points, eight rebounds, eight assists and three steals for Charlotte. Six Timberwolves scored in double-digits, led by Luke Ridnour’s seasons-high 22 points with seven rebounds and seven assists.

NOTEWORTHY MATCHUP

Eric Bledsoe vs. Ricky Rubio. Rubio had 14 points with eight assists and five steals in Minnesota’s loss to Charlotte. In a way, that sounds a lot like a Bledsoe stat line, although it’s missing the nearly 5.0 rebounds per game that the young Clippers guard has averaged as a starter. The matchup between Bledsoe and Rubio, who started for the first time since returning from knee surgery in the last meeting with Bledsoe and the Clippers, should be worthwhile. Bledsoe is the ball-hawking, supremely athletic point guard who is brimming with more and more confidence as he becomes a more vocal on-court leader. Rubio is the crafty, ball-handling wizard capable of making passes from anywhere on the floor.

Last time, the matchup was subdued by Bledsoe’s early foul trouble and Rubio’s apparent lack of timing; he had only been back in the lineup for two week prior.

“Being taken out of the lineup and then coming back in, definitely is a mind thing,” Bledsoe said of incurring early fouls. “It throws off a couple of things as far as my shot not falling and stuff like that. But I think I did a great job running the team the night before last. But I’ve just got to keep doing what I’m doing.”

In the last three games Bledsoe’s averaged 12.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 4.3 assists. Rubio has 6.7 assists and 3.7 steals in that span, but continues to struggle as a shooter. He’s made just 31.7% of his field goals in the last three, up from a team-worst 25.7% on the season.

TWO THINGS TO WATCH

Turnovers and steals. Without Paul, the Clippers have gone the last four games with fewer than 10 steals. They lead the league with 10.1 per game, a number that has slowly declined in the seven games Paul, the league’s individual leader, has missed. Facing the Timberwolves could provide a boost to that number, though. Minnesota is 23rd in the NBA in turnovers per game and has committed 18 or more six times, including a 101-95 loss to the Clippers in Los Angeles.                

Keep on sharing. The Clippers accumulated just 18 assists last time they were in Minneapolis. But that game was the end of a long road trip, not the beginning. It was also the third game with Paul out and the first in which Bledsoe’s minutes were limited due to fouls. Since then, Griffin has emerged as the primary facilitator in Paul’s absence, operating from the elbow, reading defenses and finding open teammates. He averaged 6.8 assists in five games last week, including dishing out 19 assists over the weekend against Portland.

“We rely on Chris [Paul] a lot,” Griffin said. “He has the ball a lot and he gets us into stuff. Obviously, when he’s gone it’s a different dynamic, so we’ve done a lot of things were I catch in the middle of the floor and we kind of space out. My teammates have hit shots. [DeAndre Jordan’s] done a great job of ducking in and hitting hook shots. It’s more about the flow of the offense being a little different now.”

The Clippers had 33 assists on 42 made field goals Sunday, but it was only the second time this season they have managed 25 or more with Paul not in the backcourt. Overall, the team is 17-4 when they tally 25-plus assists.

NOTES

Minnesota has allowed 100 or more points in seven of their last 10 games (all losses) and are 5-17 overall when their opponents cross the century mark… The Wolves are fifth in rebounding (44.1 per game), compared to the Clippers who are 18th (41.9). Of course, that number will likely skew downward with Kevin Love (hand) out of the lineup until March… After losing three out of four to Minnesota last season, the Clippers are 2-0 against them this year… The Clippers are 29-60 all-time on the "Grammy" road trip.

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