What to watch: Clippers-Timberwolves

April, 12, 2012
4/12/12
11:58
AM PT
Clippers (35-23) vs. Minnesota Timberwolves (25-34) at Target Center, 5 p.m. PT

Five storylines to track:

1. Minnesota jinx: As good as the Clippers have been and as bad the Timberwolves have been this season, the Clippers are still winless against Minnesota, losing all three games this year. Thursday’s game, however, will be the first matchup between the teams since Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio was lost for the season. Every game this season between the two has been competitive; two of the Clippers’ losses to Minnesota have been by a combined four points. When the teams met last month in Minneapolis, Kevin Love had 39 points and 17 rebounds to carry the Timberwolves to a 95-94 victory over the Clippers. Darko Milicic had 13 points in a spot start for injured Nikola Pekovic and Michael Beasley scored all nine of his points in the fourth quarter for the Wolves.

2. In the clutch: Clippers guard Chris Paul continues to be one of the best players in the league this season in the fourth quarter. Paul scored nine of the Clippers' final 11 points against Oklahoma City on Wednesday night, including the game-winning layup with 8.8 seconds left. Paul has now scored 319 points in the fourth quarter this season, the fourth-highest total in the NBA. His 319 fourth-quarter points accounts for 30.8 percent of all of his scoring, and he is shooting 50.8 percent (111-of-215) from the field in the final period. Paul’s game-winner against Oklahoma City marked the third time this season he has scored a winning field goal in the final 10 seconds of the fourth quarter or of any overtime period. That ties Dwyane Wade for the most winning field goals in the NBA this season. And Paul has made eight such shots over the last four seasons, tying Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant for the NBA high over that span.

3. On the road again: The Clippers play their first set of three back-to-back road games to finish the season and their third straight road game on their current trip against Minnesota. After defeating Oklahoma City on Wednesday, the Clippers are 14-14 on the road. They are attempting to finish with a .500 or better road record for the first time since moving to Los Angeles in 1984. The most road wins for the L.A. Clippers was 20, when they went 20-21 in 2005-06. The Clippers have also been a big box office draw on the road as well, ranking third in the league in average road attendance, just behind the Heat and the Lakers.

4. Moving on up: After beating Oklahoma City on Wednesday, the Clippers are now 12 games over .500 (35-23). It's only the third time that the Clippers have been more than five games over .500 this many games into a season since 1984. They finished the season eight games over .500 in 1991-92 and 12 games over .500 in 2005-06. Those are the only two seasons in which the Clippers finished over .500 since moving to L.A. The Clippers surpassed their victory total from last season on April 5, and their 35 wins are the most for the club since winning 40 in 2006-07. The Clippers' 35-23 record this season after 58 games is the second-best in franchise history, trailing only the 1974-75 Buffalo Braves, who were 36-21 after 57 games.

5. Free-throws improving: The Clippers missed just two free throws Wednesday night against Oklahoma City, going 19-of-21 from the line (90.5 percent). It was the third time this season the Clippers have shot over 90 percent from the foul line when attempting 21 or more free throws. The Clippers are 2-1 in those games this season. Since the 1985-86 season, it was the 52nd time a Clippers team has made more than 90 percent of its free throws when attempting 21 or more. Even the Clippers’ notoriously bad free-throw shooters are starting to hit their shots. DeAndre Jordan has been perfect from the free-throw line in his last four games (4-for-4) and Blake Griffin went 4-for-5 against Oklahoma City.

Arash Markazi

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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