Timberwolves-Clippers Preview

The Associated Press

While the Los Angeles Clippers appear to be in solid position to make the playoffs for the first time in six seasons, the Minnesota Timberwolves are hoping they're good enough to end an even longer postseason drought.

The Timberwolves look for a second straight victory over the Clippers when they begin a stretch of three games in three nights Monday at Staples Center.

Minnesota (17-17) won for the fourth time in five games by overcoming a late 16-point deficit to beat Utah 100-98 at home Wednesday. With the victory, the Timberwolves matched their win total from all of 2010-11, and entered the All-Star break 10th in the Western Conference, one game out of the eighth and final playoff spot.

"We'll see if we can keep this thing going,'' said coach Rick Adelman, trying to guide the Timberwolves to their first playoff appearance since 2003-04. "We're going to have to be playing well, and we're going to have to have a lot of guys stepping up if we're going to maintain what we're doing."

Minnesota faces a tough challenge out of the break with three road games in as many nights - the first two in Los Angeles. The four-game, five-day trip ends in Portland on Saturday before the Timberwolves open a four-game homestand against the Clippers next Monday.

They snapped a four-game road skid against the Clippers (20-11) with a 101-98 victory Jan. 20. Seldom-used forward Darko Milicic had 22 points while All-Star Kevin Love added 17 with 14 rebounds as Minnesota outscored Los Angeles 29-19 in the fourth quarter.

"It's just a whole new feel for the team," said Love, averaging 25.0 points and 14.0 rebounds. "Just giving ourselves a chance to win at the end of games and then figuring out how to win.''

Love, who won the All-Star 3-point Shootout over the weekend, has averaged 17.0 points and 12.5 boards in his last four road games against the Clippers.

Second-year center Nikola Pekovic had eight points and two rebounds in 11 minutes off the bench at Los Angeles last month, but has averaged 17.2 points and 10.4 boards over his last 13 games - 11 as a starter.

Minnesota, however, could have a tougher time beating Los Angeles with Chris Paul and Caron Butler in the lineup. Injuries kept both off the floor in the first meeting.

"Obviously, they were a different team because they didn't have Chris or Caron," Love said. "For us to (win), especially in L.A., it's a big deal. The Clippers are a good team."

Paul had a season-36 points with nine assists and Blake Griffin added 27 points and 12 rebounds as Los Angeles avoided a third consecutive defeat with a 103-95 home win over Denver on Wednesday. It was a much-needed victory for the Clippers, who are third in the West and 1 1/2 games ahead of the rival Lakers atop in the Pacific Division.

The Clippers last made the playoffs in 2005-06.

"After the break, that's when it gets serious'' said Paul, averaging 27.0 points - nearly eight above his season average - over his last three contests. "Definitely a lot of room for improvement. Obviously we haven't peaked yet and we can keep getting better.''

Paul is averaging 21.1 points and 10.5 assists in 17 career games versus Minnesota. Griffin has posted 25.4 points and 10.6 rebounds per game in five meetings with the Timberwolves.