NBA

Clippers-Timberwolves Preview

After relying on some terrific defense to grind out two impressive road wins, the Los Angeles Clippers could have a tougher time pushing the pace than it might seem in the finale of a four-game trip.

Continuing to play well without Blake Griffin, the Clippers look for a seventh win in nine games Monday night and an 11th straight victory over a last-place Minnesota Timberwolves team that's no longer laying down for anyone.

The Clippers (39-21) were putting up 110.4 points per 100 possessions - tied with Golden State for league's most efficient offense - prior to Griffin's injury, and they've only fallen to third (107.7) with the five-time All-Star on the shelf.

They've been considerably better defensively in these past three weeks, allowing just 96.9 points per 100 after giving up 131 points to Oklahoma City in their first game without Griffin. That's among the NBA's five most efficient marks after Los Angeles ranked 20th (104.6) in that category through 52 games.

The Clippers were at their best on that end in their last two games. Los Angeles held Memphis to 37.9 percent shooting Friday in a 97-79 win, then limited short-handed Chicago to 31.0 percent - their stingiest mark of the season - in a 96-86 victory Sunday.

"We're just better at (defense)," coach Doc Rivers told the team's official website. "As the year goes on, as I keep saying, you get better. You don't stay the same, we hope. I think we're better equipped to (grind it out) now."

DeAndre Jordan, who totaled 48 boards in the wins over the Grizzlies and Bulls, has been the anchor. The league has seen 12 individual 20-rebound games since Feb. 1, and Jordan has five of them.

''You look at the stat sheet, you don't see how many times (an opponent) didn't drive because D.J. was there, how many guys went up but didn't shoot because he was there,'' said Chris Paul, who's averaged 24.8 points and 12.3 assists in his last four games. ''He should be considered for MVP, but that's how the league works. It's an offensive league.''

That's definitely the way the Timberwolves (13-45), who allowed the league's most points per 100 possessions (109.6) through January, had been wired.

But they've been far better defensively (103.9 per 100) over the past month. Minnesota has split its last 10 games, beating Memphis, Phoenix and Washington at home and playing well in losses to some contenders.

Two of those near misses came after the Timberwolves beat the Wizards 97-77 in Kevin Garnett's return to Minnesota on Wednesday. Garnett rested in a 96-89 loss at Chicago on Friday, then wasn't around for much of the final two quarters of Saturday's 101-97 loss to the Grizzlies after being ejected early in the third.

"We knew we were better than we started," Andrew Wiggins, who's averaged 21.6 points in five games since the All-Star break, told the Timberwolves' official website. "It's starting to show now that we have all of our guys back."

Nikola Pekovic, Kevin Martin and Ricky Rubio missed a 127-101 road loss to the Clippers on Dec. 1, when J.J. Redick scored 23 points in 23 minutes.

Martin and Rubio are healthy, but if the Wolves are going to end their 10-game series skid, they'll likely need a healthy Pekovic. He was limited to 12 minutes Saturday with a sore right foot, and left with an ankle injury after seven scoreless minutes the last time the Clippers visited - a 114-104 loss on March 31 as Jordan had 24 rebounds.

Pekovic averaged 24.3 points in his previous four games against Los Angeles.

Matt Barnes strained his hamstring in the Clippers' win Sunday and is doubtful against the Timberwolves.

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