The Minnesota Timberwolves have reached the playoffs just once since the 200405 season, but they have an opportunity to clinch a postseason spot Tuesday night when they face the Los Angeles Clippers in a play-in game in Minneapolis.
The winner of the contest between the seventh-seeded Timberwolves and eighth-seeded Clippers advances to the Western Conference playoffs and will face the second-seeded Memphis Grizzlies in the first round. The loser plays Friday for a second chance at reaching the postseason field.
Minnesota (46-36) appears to be a team on the rise after posting a winning record for just the second time in 17 seasons. The improvement is directly due to the presence of three-time All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns and 20-year-old rising star Anthony Edwards.
The Timberwolves lost six of their final 10 regular-season games to miss out on a top-six playoff spot, so their avenue to the postseason is via the play-in round.
“It’s a good first step,” Minnesota coach Chris Finch said. “This needs to be the foundation of what we’re trying to build, and regardless of what happens from here, we’ve got a lot of things that we’ve learned.”
Falling short isn’t on the mind of Towns, who averaged 24.6 points and 9.8 rebounds in 74 games this season.
“I’m not too worried about the play-in,” Towns said. “We’re going to go in there, play Timberwolves basketball, fight the fight, get the win and find ourselves playing for the real thing.”
The Clippers (42-40) went 3-1 against the Timberwolves with the three victories (all in November, two of them in Minneapolis) coming by an average of 19.3 points. Minnesota won the teams’ most recent matchup 122-104 on Jan. 3 in Los Angeles.
Of course, the Clippers own a big experience edge when it comes to playing in big games. Last season, they reached the Western Conference finals before losing to the Phoenix Suns in six games.
Even so, Los Angeles coach Tyronn Lue doesn’t believe it gives his club an advantage in this situation.
“I don’t really believe in that,” Lue said. “With one game, anyone can get hot, we can have a bad shooting night or anything.”
While Kawhi Leonard (ACL) missed the entire regular season and remains out, fellow Clippers star Paul George has been superb since his return from an elbow injury that sidelined him for more than three months.
George averaged 22.6 points, 6.8 assists and 5.6 rebounds in the five games after rejoining the team on March 29, making 21 of 40 3-point attempts (52.5 percent).
George only played in 31 regular-season games and averaged 24.3 points.
Edwards, who averaged 21.3 points, understands the key element to this contest.
“To stop Paul George,” Edwards said. “If we stop Paul George, we win the game.”
George, 31, figures to see a mix of Minnesota defenders, one being hard-nosed guard Patrick Beverley.
Beverley spent four seasons being a defensive pest for the Clippers but felt disrespected in contract negotiations after last season. That set off a couple of moves in which Beverley eventually landed with the Timberwolves.
Beverley is now doing his rambunctious, irritating, in-your-face stunts for Minnesota and George is trying to stay away from dealing with his theatrics.
“I’m not going through Pat,” George said. “We’re going through the T-wolves. This is not a Paul George vs. Pat Beverley match. This is not a Pat Bev vs. Clippers matchup. … I’m not even going to make that the narrative.”
The Clippers received a boost last week when Norman Powell returned from a foot injury that sidelined him for 22 games. Powell averaged 22 points and hit 7 of 10 from 3-point range in his two games back.
–Field Level Media