Timberwolves-Clippers Preview

The Los Angeles Clippers are blaming their defense for their
current struggles, and those complaints likely will continue if
they can’t slow down Kevin Love.

Los Angeles will get some help at the defensive end Wednesday
night with the long-awaited return of point guard Chauncey Billups,
who will try to help his team avoid a fifth consecutive loss in a
home matchup with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The Clippers (8-6) gave up an average of 86.2 points during a
six-game winning streak from Nov. 7-19, but they’ve allowed 103.0
per game during their current four-game skid.

They fell 105-98 on Monday to a New Orleans team that ranks near
the bottom of the Western Conference in scoring.

”Our defense was terrible. It’s almost embarrassing,” said
point guard Chris Paul, who finished with 20 points, eight assists
and four steals. ”Teams feel like they can come down and score on
us every night. Guys can’t look in our eyes and feel like they can
get by us. We have to take more pride in our play.”

Understandably, defense was the main focus of coach Vinny Del
Negro’s practice Tuesday.

“Our defense has to create our offense, which it was doing
earlier in the season and we’ve got to do a better job with that –
locking in defensively, having a more physical presence in the
paint and on the perimeter,” Del Negro told the team’s official
website. “If we do that, it will make the game easier. We’ll get
out in the open court and make the game smoother for us.”

Billups, a tough defender, could help set the tone for better
play at the Clippers’ end of the floor. The 16-year veteran played
in 20 games last season before tearing his left Achilles’ tendon
Feb. 6. He averaged 15.0 points, 4.0 assists and 2.5 rebounds.

Monday’s defeat overshadowed a strong offensive effort as the
Clippers hit a franchise-record 18 3-pointers. Caron Butler set a
team mark by hitting nine while scoring a game-high 33 points – his
most since he had 39 while playing for Washington against Boston on
April 15, 2009.

Forward Blake Griffin, though, shouldered the blame after one of
his worst performances, shooting 1 for 9 and scoring a career-low
four points before fouling out late.

”I just missed shots. It’s on me,” Griffin said. ”It’s not
because of our offense. It’s not anybody else’s fault. It’s my
fault. I had open shots, I had post-ups – I mean, I shot the ball
nine times. I just missed them.”

Griffin is averaging 25.3 points and 10.6 rebounds in eight
career games against Minnesota, scoring 19 points and adding 13
boards in a 95-82 victory in the last meeting April 12.

The Timberwolves, though, played that contest without an injured
Love, who also missed the first nine games of this season. He’s
averaging 24.0 points and 16.5 rebounds in four games since making
his season debut Nov. 21.

Love had 23 points and 24 rebounds at Sacramento on Tuesday,
helping lead Minnesota (6-7) to a 97-89 victory that ended a
five-game losing streak.

”I knew he got a lot of rebounds, but I didn’t know how many,”
coach Rick Adelman said. ”It was one of the most complete games
I’ve seen him play. He wasn’t forcing anything. He passed the ball.
He set screens. He did whatever we needed.”

The Wolves have beaten the Clippers the last three times they’ve
had Love, who totaled 39 points and 17 rebounds in a 95-94 win the
last time he faced them March 5.

The streak began Jan. 20, when Love hit a 3-pointer at the
buzzer to give Minnesota a 101-98 victory at Staples Center.