Clippers-Timberwolves Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated January 16, 2013
Having passed a pair of difficult road tests, the Los Angeles Clippers haven't missed a beat without their All-Star point guard. The Clippers might have to try for their third straight win without Chris Paul on Thursday night when they visit the Minnesota Timberwolves, who have lost five of six without star Kevin Love. After missing the past two games with a bruised right kneecap, Paul is a game-time decision for Los Angeles (30-9) as it concludes this three-game road trip. He suffered the injury when he bumped knees with J.J. Redick on Saturday with 54 seconds left in a 104-101 loss to Orlando. Paul is the team's second-leading scorer at 16.8 points per game, leads the NBA in steals at 2.6 per game and ranks second with 9.7 assists per game. "He feels a lot better," coach Vinny Del Negro told the team's official website on Tuesday. "He's gotten great therapy. But we'll take it a day at a time." Del Negro's club looks for its sixth win in seven games after rolling to back-to-back victories at Memphis and Houston by a combined 34 points. Eric Bledsoe has filled in nicely since Paul went down, totaling 33 points on 11-of-21 shooting in his first two starts of the season. Jamal Crawford has also provided a boost with 46 points in those victories, including a season-high 30 points and five 3-pointers in the 117-109 win over the Rockets. The Clippers improved to 11-1 when Crawford leads the team in scoring. The reserve guard, however, has struggled against the Timberwolves. He's averaged 9.7 points while shooting 32.4 percent and 1 for 15 from beyond the arc in his last three against them. Crawford had 11-points on 2-of-10 shooting in the Clippers' 101-95 victory over Minnesota on Nov. 28. One night after posting its second-largest victory margin in a 99-73 win at Memphis on Monday, Los Angeles reached season highs on the road in points and field-goal percentage (53.8) at Houston. Los Angeles should be able to continue that efficiency against a Minnesota team that has allowed 104.9 points per game in its last nine and has the league's worst defensive field goal percentage (50.4) this month. Despite four straight losses on their recent road trip, the Timberwolves (16-19) have won seven of their last nine at home, where they will play three of their next four games. Minnesota, however, fell to 1-5 since its All-Star forward suffered a broken hand following a 113-98 loss at Dallas on Monday night. The club announced on Tuesday the operation to repair Love's hand was successful, and he'd return sometime in March. Center Nikola Pekovic has tried to compensate for Love's absence, averaging 19.2 points while shooting 60.0 percent and 10.8 rebounds in his last six games. Reserve guard J.J. Barea has totaled 36 points and shot 5 for 12 from 3-point range in his last two games after missing two because of back spasms. The Timberwolves, though, averaged just 91.0 points on 41.3 percent shooting - including 17 for 66 (25.8 percent) from 3-point range - during its 0-4 road trip. They rank last in 3-point shooting at 29.7 percent and currently are on pace to become the second team in 10 seasons to finish below 30 percent from long range. "It was a tough trip,'' Barea said. "I tell them to remember how this feels. We have to get better at home."
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