The Timberwolves didn't appear on TNT for nearly seven years but Thursday they will be featured for the second time in a month. TNT analyst Mike Fratello will call the game with former Wolves play-by-play man Kevin Harlan. Fratello talked this week with Wolves beat writer Jerry Zgoda about the 7 p.m. game against the surging Los Angeles Clippers.
Q TNT has a Wolves-Clippers and Lakers-Heat doubleheader Thursday. Not long ago, the Lakers always would have been considered the main event. Has that changed?
A Yep, I think we have to give the Clippers their due. They have the best or second-best record in the NBA along with Oklahoma City, and they've certainly earned it, and the Lakers have not done very well after the very high expectations. Right now it's the Clippers' town until the Lakers take it back.
Q Does that seem strange to say?
A Yeah, it does, with the history of the Clippers. But it's a new culture there now. Vinny Del Negro has put his imprint on the team. Chris Paul has been so important. And they've made some really good veteran pickups: Chauncey Billups, Grant Hill are just solid people. They're for real. The playoffs are strange. They could legitimately win it all, they really could.
Q Can there be a MVP other than a guy named LeBron? Could Chris Paul be that guy?
A Chris Paul is that guy. He's the LeBron of their team. He makes big shots. He's a voice willing to step up and be heard. He's a great competitor. Is there anything I said there that doesn't go along with LeBron? They have many of the same qualities, except physically they're a different size.
Q Kevin Love has broken his hand again, Ricky Rubio still isn't himself. Do the Wolves have enough to keep it together until both are themselves again?
A Well, you're asking a lot of other people, but that's what you have to do. You have to find a way to hang around. It's going to be tougher to get that eighth spot in the Western Conference than the East. You can hit the Clippers, Spurs, Oklahoma City in a row, lose three or four straight and guys start hanging their heads. They aren't mentally tough and they go, 'Well, that's it.' It can't be that way. It's got to be that determination where if you lose one, the next one becomes that much more important.
Q Some fans here became convinced the Wolves are better without Love. What do you think of that?
A Many consider him to be the best power forward in the game. Those people who judged him may have been a little too quick to give up on him. He's one of the better rebounders in the league, has range on his shot. He broke his hand. You shoot the ball with your hand. Give him time to get back. He's shown what he's capable of doing when he's healthy. If they're tired of him, I'm sure a lot of teams gladly will take him off their hands.
Q If they were completely healthy, could the Wolves compete in the West?
A Could they win a round (in the playoffs)? Yeah. They could win a round. I don't think they're ready to win a championship in the Western Conference yet. Are they as good as Oklahoma City or San Antonio? No. But are they good? Yeah, they have a great coach and if they have all their pieces, and that means Kevin's back playing like he plays and Ricky's playing like he can.