Gameday Central: Wolves vs. Clippers

Mark Remme
Wolves Editor/Writer

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Final: The Wolves dropped a 96-90 decision tonight to the Clippers at home, a tough loss considering how well Minnesota played in coming back during the fourth quarter. Pek led the way with 17, Kirilenko and Barea had 14 and Shved had 12 on the night. For the Clippers, Blake Griffin had 26 and Caron Butler had 19. Stay tuned all night for further analysis, highlights, photos and more at LAC 96, MIN 90

Q4 30.1: Offensive rebounds iced this one for the Clippers. They just snagged two consecutive boards to hold possession, and the last one by Bledsoe led to an old-fashioned 3-point play by Griffin that puts LAC up six with a half minute to go. Too bad, because the Wolves really fought in this one and came all the way back despite trailing 11 in the second half. LAC 94, MIN 88

Q4 3:00: Nikola Pekovic just took a nice feed from AK inside and put it in for two, giving the Wolves an 88-87 lead with three minutes left. Moments before that, Jamal Crawford hit a long two, and in the minutes prior AK put up four straight Wolves points to give Minnesota the lead. Should be a good finish here tonight. MIN 88, LAC 87

Q4 5:46: Big shot by Alexey Shved, who has been on and off tonight shooting 5-of-13 overall and 1-of-6 from 3-point range. But he just connected on a long 2 that knots this game up at 82-82 with 5:46 to play. Big shot from the rookie, who is headed to Houston to take part in the All-Star Weekend's BBVA Rising Stars Challenge in mid-February. MIN 82, LAC 82

Q4 8:21: Minnesota cut this lead to two after an Alexey Shved dunk early in the quarter, but the Clippers have extended this lead out to 80-76. Again, free throws have played a role as Jamal Crawford was fouled shooting a 3 moments ago and hit just 2-of-3. Both teams are struggling from the line tonight (34-for-51 overall) LAC 80, MIN 76

End Q3: Wolves trail by five heading into the fourth quarter. So far it's been a free throw clinic for both teams; LAC is shooting 16-of-24 and the Wolves are 15-of-22. But if one of these teams can get things figured out from the line, it will make a difference in this ballgame. Meanwhile, Alexey Shved appeared to draw contact on a last-second 3-pointer to end the quarter but no foul was called. The Clippers are holding a 36-26 advantage in the paint tonight, another area the Wolves would like to correct in this fourth quarter. LAC 76, MIN 71

Q3 5:18: All of a sudden the Wolves fought back to within two here. LAC held an 11-point lead moments ago, but Ricky Rubio has come alive offensively and has seven points this quarter. He's really bringing a little extra energy tonight that he had all of last year, and it's good to see. He's getting to the basket, and he even hit a long two minutes ago. He's got nine points on 4-of-6 shooting and has three assists on the night. LAC 64, MIN 62

Q3 7:53: The Clippers continue to battle the Wolves inside and they continue to win down low. Griffin and Jordan have now combined for 34 points tonight, more than half of LAC's points. Ridnour just hit the Wolves' fourth 3-pointer of the game that cut the Clippers' lead down to eight. Minnesota needs to find an answer for L.A.'s presence down low on the defensive end, and a few more connections from outside wouldn't hurt offensively. LAC 64, MIN 56

Halftime: Both Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are taking control here for the Clippers, as they've scored 28 of L.A.'s 52 points tonight. It's a big reason why the Clippers came back from 11 down to taking a four-point lead at the half. But the toughest blow came at the end of the quarter in the final 15 seconds. After the Wolves cut the lead to one with a nice offensive rebound and score by Pekovic, L.A. took the ball up court and Caron Butler hit a big 3-pointer at the buzzer. L.A. is taking advantage of Minnesota's cold shooting over the past 12 minutes. Minnesota has dipped from 64 percent shooting in the first quarter to 43 percent overall at the half. Pek has 11 points, Barea has eight and AK has seven at the half. Aside from Griffin's 17 and Jordan's 11, Butler has seven and Crawford has six. LAC 52, MIN 48

Q2 2:53 The Clippers keep plugging away here in the second, turning a Wolves lead that was consistently hovering around nine points into a four-point advantage with just under three left in the second. The Wolves have gone cold this half, shooting 6-of-19 this quarter. L.A. is getting some solid minutes from Jamal Crawford (6 points) off the bench. MIN 44, LAC 40

Q2 5:55 I feel like Stiemsma is having a Bash Brothers moment from the Mighty Ducks, because he basically just took on the entire Clippers team over the last few minutes. The latest was after he picked up a Flagrant 1 with a hard foul on Grant Hill and was confronted by Caron Butler and Ronny Turiaf. Both Clippers received techs, and Stiemsma got the flagrant. Meanwhile, the Wolves continue to get some breaks offensively, most recently a nice drive and baseline floater by Shved, and Minnesota has a nine-point lead midway through the second. MIN 41, LAC 32

Q2 8:26: Two major developments in how this game over the last few moments. Matt Barnes tried to fight through a Stiemsma screen at the top of the key, gets tangled up with Stiemsma and reacts to the point that he was given a Flagrant 2 and ejected. Stiemsma hit 1-of-2 free throws, and the Wolves are up eight. Meanwhile, during the break, one poor fan decided it was a good idea to let Crunch give him a haircut. Ends up with a sideways mohawk and a mullet in the back. Tough, tough night at Target Center for that guy. MIN 33, LAC 25

End Q1: Pretty competitive first quarter here at Target Center, as Minnesota holds a 25-23 lead heading into the second. The Wolves' biggest issue is and will continue to be handling Blake Griffin, who has shown his offensive power and finesse is a tough matchup for Derrick Williams. If the Wolves do try putting Chris Johnson on him, it will likely be a tough physical matchup for him as well. For now, it looks like Griffin is headed to the bench as Dante Cunningham checks in. We've also go Mickael Gelabale making his first appearance of the night for AK at the 3. Jamal Crawford is on the floor, but otherwise this is an opportunity for the Wolves to make a move on the scoreboard facing Crawford, Hill, Barnes, Turiaf and Odom. MIN 25, LAC 23

Q1 2:26: Both teams off to strong starts offensively. The Clippers are shooting 60 percent from the field and Minnesota is shooting 57 percent. Blake Griffin is the story so far for L.A. He's got 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting. We've got a J.J. Barea/Alexey Shved back court entering the game as Griffin heads to the line after a quick timeout. LAC 19, MIN 18

Q1 5:45: Wolves guard Ricky Rubio spent most of these first six minutes looking like the Rubio of old, really having a spring in his step and some fire in his play as he put together a collection of flashy plays. He hit AK on the fast break with a through the legs pass to his left, and on an ensuing possession he drove baseline and scored with a nice lay-up. He did appear to tweak his knee as Eric Bledsoe drove past him moments ago, but he stayed in the game so we'll see how/if that develops over time. MIN 16, LAC 11

Starters: Clippers: PG-Eric Bledsoe, SG-Willie Green, SF-Caron Butler, PF-Blake Griffin, C-DeAndre Jordan

Wolves: PG-Ricky Rubio, SG-Luke Ridnour, SF-Andrei Kirilenko, PF-Derrick Williams, C-Nikola Pekovic

Pregame 6:30 PM: Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro confirmed guards Chris Paul (bruised right knee cap) and Chauncey Billups (tendinitis in left foot) will not play tonight, but as he said two weeks ago when the Clippers were in town the team has a great deal of confidence in point guard Eric Bledsoe. The key is figuring out who is going to take control in the final moments of the game, and Bledsoe needs to be a big factor in that regard.

"It depends who's in there, but obviously, [Eric Bledsoe's] got to do it," Del Negro said. "You know, whether Jamal [Crawford] or Blake [Griffin] at the elbow, I have confidence in all those guys, and the guys that are out there are out there for a reason, and they have to find ways to be productive, especially in the big moments."

The Wolves have had their own issues with late-game situations, particularly having a go-to scorer to run plays for. At the beginning of the season, it seemed like their options had grown from a season ago as Kevin Love would be the primary target but could also defer to a player like Brandon Roy. But both of those guys are injured and have missed most of the season, and it's caused problems in the team's late-game sets.

Del Negro said one thing the Wolves can rely on is Pek's physical presence, and having him back makes a difference.

"He's a big guy on the front line, he's a very good duck-in player, he's strong, gives them a post presence, so, whenever you add a starter to a roster, it's going to make an impact," Del Negro said. "They're weathering the injury storm, and they got some guys back tonight, and we're going to have to be ready to go."

Pregame 6:15 PM: This is the first game that coach Rick Adelman has coached in almost a month, a span of 11 games. But the veteran coach isn't having much trouble getting re-adjusted back into his role except for perhaps the new faces he hasn't yet coached in a live game setting.

"I'm trying to figure out how to play people—I haven't seen two of the guys except for on TV," Adelman joked. "But when you've been doing this for a long time, you do a lot of it by feel and how the game is going, so I don't think it will be too hard. I have a good staff that's going to give me input."

One of the options Adelman does have tonight is pairing one of his new faces with a mainstay coming off the injury list. The Wolves have toyed around with playing Nikola Pekovic and Chris Johnson together, and that's a possibility that could very well happen tonight against the Clippers. Pekovic hasn't played since Jan. 17, two days before Johnson was signed for his first 10-day contract, but the coaching staff believes Johnson's length, quickness and athleticism makes him a strong complement in the front court and can make up for his lack in weight. Pekovic said Johnson fits the 4 role, and during shootaround he said he thought it could work.

The problem tonight could be his ability to handle the West's starting All-Star power forward Blake Griffin.

"I don't know if that's one where he can get backed down and doesn't have enough weight to hold him off," Adelman said. "He's certainly doing enough off the ball, though."

Adelman said Johnson does bring the ability to block and alter shots as well as rotate quickly on help defense. Definitely watch for that potential pairing at times tonight.

Pregame 4:30 PM: One interesting stat for the night is the fact that Minnesota will have 12 players available on the bench tonight. It's the first time they've had that many players available for a game since Dec. 26 against Houston, a span of 16 games. At that point, Kevin Love was still in the starting lineup. It's amazing that an NBA team could go five weeks bobbing between nine and 11 available players. It will be good to see a little more depth tonight on the bench.

Pregame 4:00 PM: Welcome to Target Center for tonight’s game, where the Wolves will begin a six-game home stand over the next 10 days beginning with the Los Angeles Clippers. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. on Fox Sports North and 830 WCCO-AM.

The big news of the day revolves around coach Rick Adelman, who is coaching his first game since Jan. 5 against Portland. Just a huge boost in confidence having him around, and you can tell the mode has shifted with everyone around the organization knowing the man who is nearing 1,000 career wins is back in the gym.

Not only that, but the Wolves will have center Nikola Pekovic and guard Alexey Shved back from injury. Pek is a big boost on his own, not only providing a little muscle in the paint to help deal with the athletic and powerful duo of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, but also creating some problems for a defense that must account for him on the offensive end. Teams often need to double Pek, opening up some breathing room on the outside for shots or penetration. And Pek is a nice asset to have in the pick-and-roll game.

As for Shved, he’ll return after missing five games on the same day he was selected to the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge in Houston. That’s a really nice honor for Shved, who has quickly shown he is adjusted to the NBA game and put together a nice stretch of play in December. Should be fun to watch him compete at the game, which will take place Friday, Feb. 15 at 8 PM CT on TNT.

More news and notes to follow throughout the night. Stay tuned.

Here are some pregame notes as we await tipoff for tonight’s game:

  • The Wolves lead in the all-time series 48-44 and are 29-17 at home. The Clippers have won the last three games in the series, including two this season: 101-95 at Los Angeles on Nov. 28 and 90-77 at Minnesota on Jan. 17.

  • The Wolves enter tonight in the 12th position in the Western Conference, five games behind Houston for the final playoff spot. Minnesota is 11-7 at Target Center this season and starts a six-game home stand tonight.

  • The Wolves rank 5th in the NBA in free throw attempts per game (25.5) and have allowed the 2nd fewest free throw attempts (19.7). Minnesota has attempted 30+ FTs in a game 15 times this season and allowed less than 20 FTs in a game 18 times.

  • Andrei Kirilenko is shooting 64.3% (45-for-70) in his last six games at Target Center. He ranks 27th in the NBA in FG% (51.5), 21st in steals (1.54 spg) and 28th in blocks (1.19 bpg).

  • Luke Ridnour is averaging 16.3 points, on 50.0% shooting, over the last six games. He has scored in double-digits in 12 of the last 13 games. Ridnour is the only Timberwolves player to see action in all 41 games (all starts) this season.

  • J.J. Barea has scored in double figures in 22 of his last 25 games. In his last four games, he is averaging 14.3 points, on 45.3% (24-for-35) shooting, 3.8 rebounds and 6.0 assists. Barea is a team-leading +20 when on the floor this season.

  • Ricky Rubio has started the last six games, averaging 6.3 points, 6.3 assists and 2.0 steals in 27.7 minutes per game, including season highs of 14 points and 5 steals Saturday at Charlotte.

  • The Clippers snapped a season-high-tying four-game losing streak on Sunday with a win vs. Portland. Prior to that, they had won seven of eight games. The Clippers are 13-8 on the road this season, 9-6 vs. Western Conference teams.

  • The Clippers rank 1st in the NBA in steals with 10.13 per game. They also rank 3rd in assists with 23.65 per game and 4th in FG percentage at 47.3%.

  • Blake Griffin is averaging 23.2 points, 9.0 rebounds, 6.8 assists and 2.2 steals in the last five games. His is the first player since LeBron James in 2005 to average 23+ points, 9+ rebounds, 6+ assists and 2+ steals while playing in five games in a week.

  • Chris Paul ranks 1st in steals (2.56)2nd in assists (9.7), 5th in FT% (.897). Paul has missed the last four games with a bruised right kneecap.

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