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Clippers take advantage of injured Timberwolves

The SportsXchange

MINNEAPOLIS -- This is the difference between a team fighting for a playoff berth and a team fighting for the top spot in the NBA's ultra-competitive Western Conference.

On Thursday at Target Center, the Los Angeles Clippers were without All-Star point guard Chris Paul. Still, the Clippers went out and used their impressive depth to record a 90-77 victory over Minnesota.

The Timberwolves? Already without Kevin Love for the foreseeable future, they shook their collective heads as center Nikola Pekovic (quad contusion) and guard Alexey Shved (turned ankle) left the game in the second half, making an already untenable injury situation that much worse.

Two ends of the spectrum.

The Clippers (31-9) finished their three-game road trip 3-0 -- all without Paul. They have won six of their past seven games. The Wolves, meanwhile, matched a season high with their fifth straight loss, dropping to 16-20.

Los Angeles trails the Oklahoma City Thunder by a half-game for the NBA's best record. Minnesota sits three games out of the final Western Conference postseason spot.

It was a whistled-filled, stop-and-start game that never really found a flow.

"It wasn't our best-executed game," Clippers coach Vinnie Del Negro said. "But, in the fourth quarter, we got some stops when we needed to. And Blake (Griffin) set the tone for us. It was a good road trip for us."

The Clippers' superior depth shone through. Jamal Crawford came off the bench to lead all scorers with 22 points, leading an L.A. bench that out-scored the Wolves reserves, 45-23. Griffin had 20 points, Lamar Odom 11 points and 12 rebounds and Caron Butler -- playing with a sore foot -- had 12 points.

The Wolves were led by guard Luke Ridnour, who had 21 points on 9-for-17 shooting to go with five assists. Andrei Kirilenko had 15 points, Derrick Williams scored 10.

"We are in the middle of a storm," said Terry Porter, in charge for a sixth straight game with Rick Adelman away tending to his ill wife. "This is like a perfect storm in regards to the games playing out the same. We are running out of gas at the end."

And it won't get any easier for the Wolves should Pekovic and Shved be unable to play Saturday against Houston. On Thursday, the Wolves were out-rebounded (48-41), outscored in the paint (50-30) and on second-chance points (20-13).

"Our bench has been really good all season," Crawford said. "We've found different ways to win."

Porter tried to shake things up by giving Ricky Rubio his first start of the season and Derrick Williams his first since mid-November.

Unfortunately, not much else changed. The Wolves shot 35.7 percent. And, though they stayed close to the Clippers through three quarters, ran out gas again. Up by five, the Clippers opened the fourth quarter with a 9-3 run to go up by 11 and the Wolves never got closer than eight points again.

"We just got some stops defensively," Griffin said. "Both teams missed a lot of shots. It was a sloppy game. I know it was a sloppy game for us. But the stops at the end led to quick buckets, and it got us going a little bit."

For the Clippers, who got 14 of 22 fourth-quarter points from the bench, depth has translated into a chase for the best record in the Western Conference. For the Wolves, mounting injuries have the team teetering on losing relevance.

"It's tough," said Rubio, still struggling in his return from knee surgery. "I'm not going to hide it. It' tough when you're playing and there's no more bodies out there. But that's no excuse. We are professionals. We're going to be here and I think the players who are healthy have to step up and do a better job."

NOTES: Paul, who is with the team on this trip, missed his third straight game with a bruised right kneecap. Paul remains listed as day-to-day. Still, Paul and Griffin were named starters on the Western Conference All-Star team, the second straight berth for both. "They deserve it," Clippers coach Vinnie Del Negro said. "Blake is having a fantastic year; you've seen a lot of growth in his game. And Chris as well." ... Butler played despite injuring his right foot in the Clippers' victory at Houston Tuesday.... Adelman missed his sixth straight game to be with his wife, who is hospitalized in the Twin Cities area. He has been in contact with coaches and players, but his return date has not yet been sent. ... Wolves guard Malcolm Lee had his second surgery in three days Wednesday, when he had his right hip repaired. On Monday he had cartilage damage in his right knee fixed. Lee will miss the rest of the season. The Wolves are expected to sign swingman Mickael Gelabale Friday, once Lazar Hayward's 10-day contract expires.
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