Timberwolves power forward Kevin Love tries to drive past Clippers power… (Jeff Gross / Getty Images )
The Clippers are struggling to find their way.
Even with Chauncey Billups back starting after missing the first 14 games rehabilitating a torn left Achilles' tendon, the Clippers barely escaped the Minnesota Timberwolves, 101-95, Wednesday night at Staples Center.
The Clippers broke a four-game losing streak behind 23 points and 11 assists from Chris Paul, who was eight for eight from the free-throw line, six for six in the final 30 seconds of the game.
Billups finished with seven points and a big assist late in the game to DeAndre Jordan.
"It was great to have Chauncey back," Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro said. "You see the difference he makes out there."
Before this slide, the Clippers had won six consecutive games. They had become the toast of the NBA world after victories over some big-time teams.
But the Clippers also had lost to the sub.-500 New Orleans Hornets and Cleveland Cavaliers.
So it shouldn't have come as a surprise that the Clippers would have trouble against a Minnesota team that entered the game with a 6-7 record.
There also was the problem of the Clippers rebounding the basketball.
They were destroyed on the backboards by the Timberwolves, outrebounded, 52-35.
The Timberwolves had 21 offensive rebounds, including four straight during a stretch in the fourth quarter.
"They hurt us on the glass," Del Negro said, "especially on the offensive rebounding."
Jordan (15 points) did collect a key offensive rebound for the Clippers and then threw a bounce pass to Blake Griffin (18 points) for a dunk and a 90-85 Clippers lead.
But Nikola Pekovic (11 points, 10 rebounds) scored off an offensive rebound and was fouled by Paul. Pekovic made the free throw to cut the Clippers' lead to 90-88.
For the first time during the losing streak, the Clippers stepped up on defense, forcing the Timberwolves into a turnover.
That led to a fastbreak in which Paul passed to Jordan for a dunk. Jordan, fouled on the play, made the free throw for a 93-88 Clippers lead within 59.4 seconds left.
"Like I told the guys going into the fourth quarter, it's all a test," Del Negro said.
"It's a test of your character, a test of what you are made of, how you are going to stay together, how you are going to grind games out."
The Clippers still picked up their share of technical fouls, with Lamar Odom, Ronny Turiaf and Matt Barnes all getting one.
"We've got to keep our emotions in check," Del Negro said. "We've got too many guys out there worried about calls that aren't going to get calls."
Billups took the Clippers' first shot, a three-pointer, and made it, a sign the 6-foot-3 guard was prepared to play in his first game since he suffered the injury on Feb. 6 at Orlando.
Billups, who started at shooting guard in place of Willie Green, started strong.
He scored seven of the Clippers' first 11 points.
"The first play we went to him," Paul said. "That first shot he hit really worked us up."