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Clippers rebound from 51-point loss to blow out Timberwolves

Minnesota Timberwolves guard Jarrett Culver blocks the shot of Clippers guard Reggie Jackson.
Minnesota Timberwolves guard Jarrett Culver blocks the shot of Clippers guard Reggie Jackson during second-quarter action at Staples Center on Tuesday.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Pulling down a blue mask, Kawhi Leonard moved a water bottle to the right side of his mouth and took a sip, careful to avoid the eight stitches on the left side inserted Friday after an errant elbow connected near his jaw and left the face of the Clippers franchise lacerated and bloodied.

The injury sidelined Leonard for a second consecutive game Tuesday night. But unlike Sunday, when he endured a franchise-worst drubbing from his seat on the bench, Leonard’s absence didn’t matter during a 124-101 rout of Minnesota at Staples Center

The blowout began early in the second quarter, when the Clippers scored 12 unanswered points in 90 seconds to break open a 39-all tie and leave behind a sluggish start by the starters that allowed the Timberwolves to grab an early nine-point lead.

When Patrick Beverley sank a step-back three-pointer to push the lead to 20 later in the quarter, Clippers coaches and reserves jumped out of their sideline seats. Leonard joined them too — unfurling a smile so wide it could be seen behind his mask.

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The Clippers (3-1) can’t erase Sunday’s 51-point loss against Dallas from their record. But they ensured the bad taste lingered as briefly as possible. They left Tuesday smiling instead of scowling.

“It feels good,” guard Reggie Jackson said on a videoconference, “to get a win after that atrocious loss.”

All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard will miss the Clippers game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday night while recovering from the injury to his mouth.

Lou Williams scored a team-high 20 points off the bench to lead seven Clippers in double figures. Two days after the Clippers mustered just 27 points at halftime while falling behind by an NBA-record 50 points, they scored 70 through two quarters against the Timberwolves.

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After scoring 73 points total against the Mavericks, the Clippers exceeded that amount with 22 minutes still to play against Minnesota.

Clippers reserves scored 56 points.

“Our first unit has to get off to better starts, but I thought our bench came in and did a great job,” coach Tyronn Lue said. “Lou and big [Ivica Zubac], Terance Mann, Reggie, they all gave us a big lift off the bench. We needed those guys tonight. We just have to focus on getting off to better starts.”

The Clippers made 16 of 31 three-pointers, shot 53% overall and led by as many as 31 points in a victory that could only be described as a palate-cleanser following Sunday’s debacle.

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Every NBA season has an element of randomness, but this season, with its abbreviated preseason and limited practice time because of COVID-19 regulations that kept teams largely apart until less than four weeks ago, has upped the ante through one week, with enormous margins of victory and head-scratching teams at or near the top of the standings — Orlando, Cleveland and Sacramento among them.

Clippers guard Paul George celebrates with guard Luke Kennard after making a three-point shot.
Clippers guard Paul George (13) celebrates with guard Luke Kennard (5) after making a three-point shot in the third quarter against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Staples Center on Tuesday.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

But even amid unprecedented circumstances, there still are games that would-be contenders should close out. Even with the Clippers missing Leonard and fellow starter Marcus Morris, the Timberwolves (2-2) were coming off a 36-point loss Sunday to the Lakers and played without injured star center Karl-Anthony Towns.

D’Angelo Russell scored 22 points to lead Minnesota.

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“There are a lot of things that make it harder to play [this season], but just like this game, we got to come out ready and playing hard and we’ve got to, from the first minute, show we’re the better team and take care of the business,” Zubac said. “If we do that, we’ll be good.”

Since taking his job in October, Lue has preached to his players why they cannot dwell on disappointment. Much of that discussion has revolved around moving on from the disappointment of last season. Sunday’s defeat offered a fresh test.

“A great bounce-back game for us,” Lue said. “We kept plugging away. We kept playing the right way.”

Season-opening wins over the Lakers and Denver were followed by the worst half in NBA history against Dallas. A day later, the Clippers swiftly put a 51-point loss behind them to focus on preparing for Minnesota.

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The historic 50-point hole the Clippers dug for themselves by Sunday’s halftime was so deep that Dallas still would have won even if it had failed to score a point in the second half. The Clippers spent their practice Monday focused on playing with better energy, second-year center Mfiondu Kabengele said.

“We knew what we did was a mistake,” Kabengele said. “And we didn’t come out with our best effort last game.”

Was this the kind of response the Clippers will show throughout this season?

“I’d like to believe so as a vet-laden team,” Jackson said. “A lot of guys who’ve been nine-plus years are here in our rotation, so good or bad, that 50-point loss as well as this win tonight by double digits, we’re going to have to move on from this one. Go home, reflect, take it in, but how the NBA works, we’ve got another one tomorrow.”


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