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How do the Timberwolves match up with the Clippers?

Not well, according to early season matchups. What can change?

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Minnesota Timberwolves
Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) reacts after a call against the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday at Target Center in Minneapolis.
Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY Sports
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Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said just about every regular rotation player will play for Minnesota in its regular-season finale Sunday against Chicago — sans potentially D’Angelo Russell, who missed Saturday’s practice with an illness.

“I think we’re going to play most of our guys, some version of their minutes. They want to play,” Finch said. “We want to try to stay in rhythm and play.”

Of course, Sunday is essentially a tune-up at this point for Tuesday — Minnesota’s next biggest game of the year. That’s when the Wolves will meet the Clippers in the No. 7 seed play-in game. That’s not a win-or-go-home contest — the loser of the game will have one more shot Friday at home against either San Antonio or New Orleans to earn the No. 8 seed, but the significance is massive.

For one thing, both Minnesota and Los Angeles would like to punch their playoff ticket as soon as possible. Perhaps of bigger concern, the No. 7 seed will play Memphis in Round 1 — while the No. 8 seed will be stuck playing a Phoenix team that’s heavily favored to win the title. Whoever is the seven will feel as though it has a shot to pull off a first-round upset. The No. 8, frankly, likely will not.

There is a lot on the line Tuesday at Target Center.

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The early line from oddsmakers tout the Timberwolves as a favorite by the slimmest of margins. The Clippers won the first three meetings this season — all within Minnesota’s first 12 games — when both teams were relatively healthy. Each victory came by double-digits. Finch noted that film is “pretty relevant” for Minnesota.

“In that they obviously kicked our (butt) several times. I can’t imagine that their game plan is going to be much different,” Finch said.

Probably not. The Clippers were one of the first teams to put a smaller player on Karl-Anthony Towns in the post, only to have their true big — Ivica Zubac — hovering just feet away in the paint.

Offensively, Paul George manipulated Minnesota’s high-wall pick and roll defense about as well as anyone else has all season. Only one of Minnesota’s three early games against the Clippers was truly competitive.

NBA: Utah Jazz at Los Angeles Clippers
Los Angeles Clippers guard Paul George (13) looks on in the second half of the game against the Utah Jazz on March 29 at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles.
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY Sports

But both teams are different now. Minnesota found itself offensively after a rough patch to open the season. The Wolves have largely navigated the different defensive looks thrown at Towns and found ways to score regardless — whether via buckets for the big man or others carrying the load.

That might be necessary again, as the Clippers have a number of smaller forwards to throw at Towns, from Marcus Morris to former Timberwolves forward Robert Covington, who’s always done a nice job defending Towns.

The Wolves have sported one of the league’s top offenses since the calendar flipped to 2022. Defensively, Minnesota has slipped, and may again struggle to defend the Clippers. Elite wings such as Devin Booker, Jayson Tatum and George, himself, have found simple ways to manipulate Minnesota’s defense to get easy looks for themselves or their teammates. The Clippers tout the third-best 3-point percentage in the NBA this season (37 percent).

“They look really, really good right now,” Finch said. “They’ve added (Norman) Powell, they’ve added Covington. They’re filling out nicely. But I think there’s some things we can definitely learn from it.”

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That’s Minnesota’s biggest advantage. If Tuesday’s game played out similarly to the way the early contests did — the mid-season Wolves’ drubbing of the George-less Clippers not withstanding — then the Wolves would be in trouble.

But “clinching” the No. 7 seed via Denver’s win Thursday gave Minnesota a couple practices to prepare, likely with Los Angeles in mind. And likely having seen exactly how Los Angeles will attack Minnesota, the Wolves have a chance to adjust tactics to swing the advantage back in their favor.

Will they take advantage? That’s to be determined on Tuesday.

NBA: Washington Wizards at Minnesota Timberwolves
Minnesota Timberwolves forward Anthony Edwards (1) dunks the ball against the Washington Wizards in the third quarter on April 5 at Target Center in Minneapolis.
David Berding/USA TODAY Sports

Related Topics: MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES
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