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Clippers aim to ‘enjoy the moment’ in play-in vs. Minnesota

Clippers aim to ‘enjoy the moment’ in play-in vs. Minnesota

It’s win Tuesday – or it’s win or go home Friday.

On Tuesday in Minnesota, the Clippers will have the first of two cracks at securing their invitation to the NBA playoffs for the 10th time in 11 seasons.

If they get past the Minnesota Timberwolves, they’ll slot in as the seventh seed and face No. 2 seed Memphis on the road Saturday.

Should they lose in Minneapolis, they’ll have a second play-in Friday at Crypto.com Arena against the winner of the 9 vs. 10 matchup between New Orleans and San Antonio. The winner of that game gets the privilege of facing the top-seeded Phoenix Suns in the first round; the loser’s season is through.

If possible, the Clippers would like to avoid this if-necessary.

That will take a hearty effort against a young, dynamic T’Wolves team that finished the regular season 46-35 and led the NBA in scoring with 115.9 points per game and shooting 45.7% from the field.

It’ll take finding a way to slow Karl-Anthony Towns, the T’Wolves’ talented 6-foot-11 center, who is shooting 52.8% from the field and 41% from 3-point range, best of any big man in the league.

It’ll take counteracting the athleticism of Anthony Edwards, the second-year shooting guard who averaged 21.2 points and shot 36% this season.

It’ll take going through Patrick Beverley, the former Clippers guard beloved by fans and former teammates alike, who, in his first year with Minnesota following an offseason trade, has infused the T’Wolves with a familiar cutthroat competitiveness.

“It’s for sure gonna be weird,” said Clippers center Ivica Zubac, who’s remained in regular contact this season with his friend and former teammate, who was the Clippers’ emotional leader for their past three postseason runs – including last year’s, which lasted until Game 6 of the Western Conference finals, the first in their franchise’s history.

“Every playoff game I played was with Pat Bev, so playing against him in the play-in is gonna be a little weird because I know what he brings to the table, and I know him being on Minnesota is an advantage for them for sure.”

The Clippers – who finished 42-40 for their 11th consecutive winning season – have advantages too.

They have much more collective postseason experience, and they have proven depth – should coach Tyronn Lue desire it. And they have Paul George, whose been on a sharing tear since returning to action March 29 after missing 43 games with a torn elbow ligament.

In his five games since, the seven-time All-Star is averaging 22.6 points, shooting 52.5% from 3-point range – and averaging 6.8 assists per game.

And the Clippers have Lue, whose players have referred to him as the Bill Belichick of basketball for his shrewd tactical acumen. Already, he’s been dreaming of ways to attack this postseason, including some rotations wrinkles made possible by the fact that the Clippers ended the season healthier than they’d been all season, missing only Kawhi Leonard and young unproven guards Jay Scrubb and Jason Preston.

“Yeah, I had a dream today about some combinations,” Lue said before the Clippers beat Phoenix on April 6. “Taking my nap today, yeah I did … it just came to me.”

He’s also got a clear, calm view going into his team’s first play-in experience:

“Enjoy the moment,” said Lue, who has reached the conference finals in all four seasons as an NBA head coach, including three times with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

“With everything we’ve been through this season this is no different, we’ve just got to approach the game like we approached every single game when we didn’t have a lot of bodies with the injuries, with COVID and this group has done a fantastic job with that.

“It’s going to be a hostile environment, they’re playing well. (Minnesota) Coach (Chris) Finch has a done a great job with this team really scoring the basketball. Pat has given them a defensive identity. They’re a good team and we know it’s not going to be easy but we’re definitely up for the challenge.”


Press Enterprise