MINNEAPOLIS — While the Los Angeles Clippers are learning what it’s like to play without star forward Blake Griffin, their Sunday opponent is getting healthy.
Los Angeles is missing four starters — Griffin, Danilo Gallinari, Patrick Beverley and Milos Teodosic — from its opening-night starting lineup. The Minnesota Timberwolves will host the Clippers on Sunday after getting point guard Jeff Teague back in the lineup.
Life without four starters has been trying for Los Angeles. The Clippers lost 108-82 at Dallas in an early Saturday game before traveling and they have lost two in a row after a three-game winning streak.
“It’s all teaching now,” Los Angeles coach Doc Rivers told the Los Angeles Times. “I mean, just think about it. This is what you do when you’re in a time like this. You just teach guys. You’re not going to win. You try to win and you may sneak one out.”
Montrezl Harrell is starting for Griffin, who is out two months with a sprained left MCL. The rest of the starting lineup is veteran heavy with Austin Rivers, Lou Williams, DeAndre Jordan and Wesley Johnson.
The bench includes the youth of C.J. Williams, Jawun Evans, Sindarius Thornwell and Jamil Wilson, who were the four-most used players as reserves in Saturday’s loss. Williams played a career-high 22 minutes and scored six points.
“We just got to respond to adversity better than we did today,” Williams told the Times. “We’ve got a lot of guys out and other guys have to step in. We’ve just got to do a better job.”
Minnesota is still trying to find itself with its new pieces in Teague, Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson and Jamal Crawford, the former Clippers guard. Losing Teague for four games due to a sore right Achilles didn’t help, even though backup Tyus Jones played well in Teague’s absence.
Teague had 11 points and 10 assists in 34 minutes in his return.
“Little winded, but I was OK,” Teague told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “I didn’t know I’d play that much. Tyus has been playing really well. I figured he’d play more, too.”
The bench has been one issue, with Jones having to start weakening an already-suspect unit. Reserve forward Nemanja Bjelica has also missed the past five games with a left mid-foot sprain. Bjelica’s return is still unknown.
As a sign of the inconsistency, the Timberwolves have alternated wins and losses the past six games. Minnesota is coming off a 111-107 loss at Oklahoma City on Friday.
“That one was a heartbreaker,” Gibson said after losing to the Thunder. “I felt like we had a chance to grab that one. I felt like we played great defense late. Those are the ones we learn from.”
The Wolves are 13-8, tied for the fourth-most wins in the Western Conference. The next four games are against teams with losing records within the West, including two against the Clippers. The two teams play in Los Angeles on Dec. 6.
“That’s a good feeling, knowing where we stand,” Minnesota’s Andrew Wiggins told the Star Tribune. “I guess it’s only the beginning, only the start of this. We know how much better we can get.”