Love cancels out the Clip Show once more

MINNEAPOLIS — It could be fun.

Really, it should be a lot more fun than this.

Look at those lineups. Look at it all on paper. Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio. Blake

Griffin, Chris Paul. These are some of the biggest young names in the NBA. This

is Lob City coming to Minnesota, which really should have its own nickname by

now. There should be dunks and those passes that look like special effects.

There should be quivering backboards and ridiculous stat lines.

There should be.

In Monday night’s 95-94 Minnesota win, there was a hint of the adrenaline and

the beauty that a Timberwolves-Clippers matchup can provide. It was a sign of

the fun this rivalry might one day be, but even so, the teams have yet to play

to their full explosive capacities against each other. It’s really a shame.

In his first two games against the Clippers this season, Love averaged 13.5

points and 10.5 rebounds, far short of his season averages of 25.0 and 13.6.

Rubio was downright dismal, shooting first 9.1 percent from the field in the

first game vs. the Clippers and then improving — if you can call it that — to

12.5 percent on Feb. 28.

Though the Timberwolves won those first two games, it was the Clippers’

stars who managed to at least meet expectations. Paul scored 27 points and shot

64.7 percent in his one game against Minnesota before Monday night, and Griffin

came into Monday’s matchup averaging 25.5 points against Minnesota. But even

those numbers can be deceiving. In the Feb. 28 loss, Paul, who’s known as a

fourth-quarter game-changer, scored just nine points when the game was on the

line, and Griffin had just one (one!) dunk.

Love won the first matchup with a 3-pointer at the buzzer as the T-wolves

rallied for a 101-98 victory in LA. The second matchup saw Griffin score 30

points and Paul add 27, but Derrick Williams and Michael Beasley finished with

27 points apiece, including 13 each in the fourth quarter as Minnesota rallied

again, this time for a 109-97 win.

Monday’s Minnesota win was sparked by Love. With his 39 points and 17

rebounds, combined with Saturday’s 42-point, 10-rebound performance, he became

the first player in NBA history to record 35 points and 10 rebounds while

hitting five 3-pointers in consecutive games. With 81 points in his past two

outings, he set the team record for the most points by a single player in two

consecutive games.

More important than that, Love finally played to his potential against the

Clippers. It still wasn’t that perfect matchup, when the NBA fates align and

he, Griffin, Paul and Rubio all play the stupid-good games they’re capable of.

Rubio again struggled, finishing with just four points and six assists, and

Paul’s 18 points and five assists were off his season averages.

The game was ultimately decided on a missed free throw by the unshakeable

Paul, a win that came down to inaction rather than action. So sure, it could

have been better, but with Love and Griffin both in fighting form, it was

something to watch.

“It’s always fun watching K-Love do what he does best,” Minnesota’s Williams

said. “Blake … he’s a really exciting player. A lot of people want to

watch both of those guys get out there and go at it. It’s good for the

fans.”

The story wasn’t Griffin’s dunks. This time, he was limited to just two. It

wasn’t the fluid passing from point guard to forward, either, and there were

only rare glimpses of those Paul-to-Griffin lobs and Rubio-to-Love assists. The

story was a 23-year-old power forward named Kevin Love, providing even more

proof that he should be in that conversation with Griffin for the best at their

position in the league.

It was Love’s time. He said it himself after the game. Since the All-Star

break, other teammates have stepped up and tipped the team to its wins. But on

Saturday and again on Monday, it’s been Love’s turn.

“You just have to have the you-know-what and go out there and try to make

the shots,” Love said. “In crunch time I’m just as comfortable as I

am in the first quarter.”

Last week in Los Angeles, there were cheers for Griffin. Of course there were.

He scored 30 points that night. There were yells of “MVP” peppered

amongst those cheers, as would befit a player like Griffin. But, more notably,

there was apathy toward Love, no need to cheer or boo or make much noise at

all.

On Monday, though, the “MVP” yells echoed loudly through the

Target Center for Love, a chorus rather than a smattering. For Griffin, apathy

was out of the question. There were boos and jeers, at times outrage. There was

the stuff of a nascent rivalry.

With two teams that could be on the brink of something big, that’s to be

expected. Love said that what exists between the Timberwolves and the Clippers

is no different than the rivalries with other young teams like Oklahoma City

and Portland, but he didn’t deny that there’s something there. The similarities

only fuel the fire.

When asked about those similarities, Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro almost

didn’t want to admit to them. Sure, his team’s record of 22-14 bests the

Timberwolves 20-19 mark. Yes, he plays in LA with the attention and

expectations and that little hint of superiority over a smaller-market team.

But there’s no denying what’s there.

“It’s different,” Del Negro said. “They’re different

teams.”

Well, of course.

“It’s a new staff, new players, different system. Same thing with

us.”

That’s a similarity.

“Both teams are still trying to find their way,” Dell Negro added. “With

the nucleus of their team being younger players… from that standpoint, yeah.

They’re going through the same thing.”

He couldn’t help but admit it. These teams are young and exciting and poised to

make something of themselves. Neither has quite made it yet, but if Monday was

any hint, this matchup is going to be pretty interesting when they finally do.

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