Shorthanded Clippers host Minnesota Thursday night
January 16, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan (6) grabs a rebound against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the second half at Staples Center. (Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)
LOS ANGELES — Chris Paul underwent successful surgery Wednesday to repair torn ligaments in his left thumb, but the prognosis for the Los Angeles Clippers isn’t as promising.
The damage the absence of the Los Angeles Clippers standout point guard won’t be known for the next 6-to-8 weeks — the amount of time Paul is expected to be sidelined — but the challenge will be significant.
In the meantime, the Clippers (29-14) begin their journey without Paul and another contest without injured forward Blake Griffin (right knee surgery) when they meet the Minnesota Timberwolves on Thursday night at Staples Center.
The Clippers are saying all of the right things. Coach Doc Rivers, in typical coach-speak, said other players must step up.
“We still have new guys — Alan (Anderson) is new and Raymond (Felton) is new and Mo (Speights) and Brandon (Bass) — this is a good opportunity for them to learn how to execute together,” Rivers told the Los Angeles Times. “When everyone is back, when you get Chris and Blake back, if this group can execute, and then you put those two guys back on the floor, I think it makes us better in the long run. This is not the way you want to do it, but this is the way it’s been presented.”
The Clippers’ presentation will be tested almost immediately. After the Minnesota game, Los Angeles plays 10 of its next 11 on the road. They could get Griffin back for some of that stretch, with his return being anticipated before the end of the month.
For now, the Clippers will depend on Austin Rivers and Felton to fill the void of Paul, who was averaging 17.5 points, 9.7 assists, 5.3 rebounds and 2.25 steals, the latter tops in the NBA.
The Timberwolves (14-28) are hoping to take advantage of Paul missing in action. However, the Clippers owned Minnesota in recent times, winning 16 of the last 17 matchups. The Timberwolves ended a four-year drought last season by beating the Clippers at Staples in February 2016.
In their initial meeting this season, the Clippers prevailed 119-105 at the Target Center on Nov. 12.
The Timberwolves were expected to be one of the up-and-coming clubs this season with their array of young talent and the addition of defensive-minded coach Tom Thibodeau, a close friend and former assistant to Rivers in Boston.
Instead, the Timberwolves have struggled mightily for much of the campaign. They lost their last two games on the road against the San Antonio Spurs and the Dallas Mavericks and are 3-6 in their last nine outings.
Second-year center Karl Anthony-Towns remains one of the game’s top players, averaging 22 points and 12 rebounds. Towns is shooting 49 percent from the floor.
The Timberwolves also receive solid production from forward Andrew Wiggins (21.6 points) and Zach LaVine (20.1).
But inconsistency has plagued them. Turnovers — Minnesota was tied with the Los Angeles Lakers for 21st in the league heading into Wednesday’s slate of games — remain a problem. The Spurs cashed in 22 points on Timberwolves’ miscues compared to only two points for Minnesota.
“If you’re going to win on the road, you have to take care of the ball,” Thibodeau told the Star-Tribune.