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.