Clippers-Timberwolves Preview


The Minnesota Timberwolves were making a run at their first postseason appearance in the post-Kevin Garnett era before an injury to star rookie Ricky Rubio last month sent them into a slump.

It may get even worse without their leading scorer.

Kevin Love won't play Thursday night when Minnesota hosts the surging Los Angeles Clippers, who are clinging to fourth place in the Western Conference.

Minnesota was 21-19 heading into its game against the Los Angeles Lakers on March 9, but Rubio suffered a season-ending tear of his left ACL in the final moments of a 105-102 defeat.

The Timberwolves (25-34), who haven't qualified for the postseason since Garnett led them to the West finals in 2004, have fallen out of playoff contention by losing 14 of 18 games since Rubio went down. They lost 113-107 at Denver on Wednesday - their seventh straight defeat.

Unfortunately for Minnesota, Rubio's injury may not be the most devastating blow this season.

Love suffered a mild concussion after being hit in the head with an elbow from Denver's JaVale McGee, spending Wednesday night in the hospital as a precaution. The All-Star forward was cleared to return home, but it's uncertain when he will be back in action after being ruled out of Thursday's game.

He entered Wednesday averaging an NBA-best 28.8 points since the All-Star break and is fourth in the league this season at 26.0 per game.

"It was pretty bad, but hopefully he will be all right," said guard J.J. Barea, who had a career-high 15 assists. "As soon as he got hit, I knew that he was out. He was talking, but he wasn't all there, though."

Love's absence prevents another showdown with Blake Griffin and hinders the Wolves' chances of a season sweep of the Clippers. Love hit a last-second 3-pointer in a 101-98 win Jan. 20 and had 39 points and 17 rebounds in a 95-94 victory March 5.

Griffin performed well in all three contests, but had his best showing with a 30-point performance Feb. 28, when Love scored only 10. However, Michael Beasley and Derrick Williams picked up the slack for Minnesota by scoring 27 points each off the bench in a 109-97 win.

Williams also scored 27 off the bench Wednesday for the Wolves, who rallied from a 24-point deficit to tie it with help from Anthony Randolph's game-high 28 points.

"Kevin is our go-to guy," Williams said. "But I always say, injuries create opportunities for everybody else and people have to step up when their name is called."

The Clippers haven't lost four straight to Minnesota since a nine-game losing streak Jan. 15, 2003-Dec. 17, 2004, and they'll look to end the current skid by earning their 10th victory in 12 games overall.

Los Angeles (35-23) remained one-half game ahead of Memphis for fourth place and the accompanying home-court advantage in the first round of the postseason with a 100-98 win at Oklahoma City on Wednesday.

Chris Paul scored 31 points and hit the deciding layup with 8.8 seconds remaining for the Clippers, who also got 16 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists from Griffin.

"That's the reason he's the best down the stretch. He takes over games," Griffin said of Paul. "For that to be our guy, and he has the ball in his hands a lot, it just works out perfectly."

Paul missed the first meeting with Minnesota, but his career average of 21.3 points versus the Timberwolves is tied for his third-best against any opponent.

The Wolves have won three of the last four meetings in Minnesota.