LOS ANGELES - Despite a weekend to prepare for their first home game after returning from the East Coast, the Los Angeles Clippers still are not quite sure what they will get when they play host to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday.
Solid at home with a 3-1 record at Staples Center in the early going, the Clippers figure to simply play to their strengths against a Timberwolves team that has shown multiple identities.
There is the Minnesota team with veteran guard Jimmy Butler on the court. There is the one that plays without Butler, like Sunday night at Portland when he was out because of "precautionary rest."
Furthermore, there is the Timberwolves team that was carried last week by resurgent veteran Derrick Rose, who scored a career-best 50 points in a victory against the Utah Jazz on Wednesday. Rose, though, has been working his way through a sore left ankle in recent days.
Barring a trade, Butler is expected to play at Los Angeles after his day of rest Sunday, although he says the decision to rest or play is all his.
"I'm not worried about no [trade]," Butler said, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "Injured or not, I have to take care of myself. I realize they have a job to do as an organization. I have one to do as a player. But if I'm not in the right with my body to go out there and do it, I don't want to get hurt. I've been hurt almost every year now. We're going to take this thing with caution."
When Rose went wild last week against the Jazz, Butler did not play because of "general soreness." The only other time Butler was held out of a game was Oct. 20 at Dallas, on the second night of back-to-back games.
The Clippers will expect a well-rested Butler on Monday, although Rose's status is unknown after the veteran guard was listed as "probable" on Sunday but did not play in a 111-81 blowout defeat to the Trail Blazers.
The Clippers' defense has been one of the best in the league with the sixth-best defensive rating, according to NBA.com, at 105.3. But it was exposed in the second half Tuesday in a 128-110 defeat at Oklahoma City. Then there was a poor defensive start in a 122-113 loss Thursday at Philadelphia.
But the defense was back to being elite again Friday in a 120-95 victory at Orlando.
"We played a great half of defense ... in Philly in the second half," Rivers said, according to the Los Angeles Times. "We played a great night in Oklahoma in the first half. We just haven't put two halves together. [At Orlando], both halves, great."
The Clippers have been getting solid play from both their starters and their second unit off the bench. Starting guards Patrick Beverley and Avery Bradley keep the defense grounded, while pure scorer Lou Williams comes off the bench to average 19 points a game.
A new Clippers wrinkle is the positive minutes from 7-foot-3 backup center Boban Marjanovic, who has scored double-digit points in three of the past four games. Tobias Harris is leading the Clippers in points (21.2) and rebounds (8.3) per game.
In the seven games Butler has played for the Timberwolves, he has averaged 22.3 points. Minnesota center Karl-Anthony Towns led the Timberwolves with 23 points Sunday, but had just five rebounds after entering the game with 10.7 boards per game.
Clippers forward Luc Mbah a Moute is questionable Monday with a sore left knee. Aside from Butler's days of rest and Rose's sore ankle, the Timberwolves are also dealing with Jeff Teague's sore left knee that has forced the guard to miss the last three games.