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MINNEAPOLIS – The excuses came ready made for the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday night. Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford were out with injuries. They were playing their fourth game of a five-game road trip.
Chris Paul would have none of that.
"I said, 'Fellas, let's be who we are. We got who we got, let's keep the train moving,'" Paul told them. "We said, 'No excuses.'"
And no mercy on a Minnesota Timberwolves team that just wants this massively disappointing season to end.
Darren Collison had 28 points and seven assists, and the Clippers didn't miss a beat with Griffin out with a back injury in a 114-104 victory.
Paul had 22 points, nine assists and seven rebounds, and Matt Barnes scored 19 points for the Clippers (53-22). Griffin, the team's leading scorer, warmed up before the game but wasn't quite ready after being injured on Saturday night against Houston.
Jared Dudley started in his place and scored 16 points, while DeAndre Jordan grabbed a career-high 24 rebounds to help the Clippers pull within two games of Oklahoma City for the second seed in the West.
"Everyone keeps track," Dudley said. "We know we have another game against (the Thunder) at home and we're just trying to win every game. We want that 2 seed and we know the 1 seed could be tough because San Antonio hasn't lost in a month or so."
Kevin Love had 20 points, 13 rebounds and four assists for the Wolves.
Crawford was out with a calf injury, but a lackluster effort by the Wolves' starters on the second night of a back-to-back made up for his absence.
"They've got to bust it," Wolves coach Rick Adelman said. "They owe themselves that. Owe their teammates that; owe the organization, the fans."
The Clippers hit 12 of 30 3-pointers and blew the game wide open with a 31-5 run in the third quarter. The Wolves led 59-57 early in the period, but Collison scored 16 points on 7-of-8 shooting in the quarter. The Clippers put their foot on the gas, scoring 13 points in transition during the surge, and punctuating it with a lob pass from Paul to Jordan for an 86-64 lead.
Nikola Pekovic left seven minutes into the game when his bothersome right ankle flared up again, and only a spirited effort by Shabazz Muhammad (11 points) and the Timberwolves bench in the fourth quarter kept the game from getting out of hand.
The Clippers went 13-2 in March, their second-best month in franchise history, and have won 16 of their last 18 to improve to more than 30 games over .500 for the first time in the team's 44-year history.
And Paul has instilled this team with a nastiness that could serve it well in the postseason. With a 14-point lead and just over four minutes to play, the 6-foot Paul went up to swat a dunk attempt by Minnesota's 6-foot-11 rookie Gorgui Dieng. Paul was called for a foul, but he also sent Dieng crashing to the court.
"That's the attitude that we have to have that no matter what the obstacles you just keep playing," coach Doc Rivers said. "We have enough guys, and that's what we talked about today. We didn't mention the injuries. ... You just go out and play and it'll work out if you believe that and play well."
The Timberwolves were supposed to be in the playoff picture with the Clippers this season, but their 36-37 record to this point makes them one of the biggest disappointments in the league.
Ricky Rubio had just three points on 1-for-6 shooting with five turnovers, Love was 8 for 21 and Kevin Martin was a non-factor with 12 points on 4-for-14 shooting.
"It's definitely tough right now," Love said. "We've got to try to finish this thing strong and just try to play well. ... We're a little beat up right now, but we still have to come and play and try to give it our best. But that's a very good team right there."
NOTES: The Clippers hosted Iowa coach Fran McCaffery and his 14-year-old son, Patrick, who had a malignant tumor removed from his thyroid last month. Paul has been a vocal supporter of Patrick's ever since first hearing about the boy's situation. Patrick is a big fan of Paul, and the All-Star guard called him the day before he had surgery. ... Glen Davis had two points in four minutes after getting sent to the locker room against Houston for what Clippers coach Doc Rivers called an attitude problem. ... Love set the franchise record for made free throws in the first quarter, surpassing the 465 made by Tom Gugliotta in 1996-97.