Jefferson, Smith team up to manhandle injury-plagued Clippers

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Al Jefferson looked up at the scoreboard in the second quarter of Friday night's game against the Los Angeles Clippers and figured it was time to go to work.

He gazed at the scoreboard again before the start of the fourth quarter, only this time he did it while relaxing on the bench and watching his team cruise to a rare, easy victory.

Jefferson scored 25 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in three quarters, Craig Smith added 21 points, and the Minnesota Timberwolves beat the short-handed Los Angeles Clippers 104-83 on Friday.

"Al finally said, 'What am I doing out here?' " Minnesota coach Randy Wittman said. "Al stopped Al in the first quarter. He settled for too many jump shots."

Jefferson missed four of his first five shots and Minnesota trailed by as many as 15 points in the second quarter. Then Jefferson got going and helped the Wolves take over.

Minnesota continued to show improvement after a dismal start to the season, winning for the fifth time in seven games after starting 5-29. Ryan Gomes added 18 and nine rebounds for Minnesota.

A big reason for the Wolves early season woes was a tendency to collapse in the fourth quarter. On Friday, Minnesota started slow, but outscored Los Angeles 74-39 in the game's final 30 minutes.

"I knew I had to step up and be an example by attacking the basket and getting some easy points," Jefferson said. "I came in 1-for-4 and got rolling after that."

The Clippers were playing their third straight game without leading scorers Corey Maggette and Chris Kaman, who both were out with the flu. Injuries are nothing new for Los Angeles, which has played all season without star Elton Brand and forward Shaun Livingston.

Without Kaman inside, the Clippers were unable to slow Jefferson once he got rolling.

"They feasted in the low post," Los Angeles coach Mike Dunleavy said. "Without Kaman to give us a low post presence offensively and defensively, as the third rebounder and the third shot blocker in the league, it's kind of hard to deal with. Jefferson's been playing great, but we didn't give him any resistance down there to even get a chance for the double teams to get there. So that really hurt us."

Sam Cassell led the Clippers with 17, 13 in the first quarter.

"We're not complaining about it, because that's the hand we were dealt," Cassell said of his team's injuries. "So we've got to play it. But take three starters off anybody's team and let me see how they transpire?"

The Clippers led by as many as 15 in the second before Jefferson scored 11 points in a three minutes to help trim the deficit to four at halftime.

The 6-foot-11 emerging star made nine of his next 10 shots, including a put-back dunk in the third during a 19-6 run that helped the Wolves gain control of the contest.

"I settled for jumpers and missed a lot of lay-ins and shots I normally make," Jefferson said. "But I knew if I kept attacking I would make the shots I normally make."

Cassell tormented the team he led to the Western Conference finals in 2004 with an array of drives and spot-up jumpers to finish the first quarter with 13 points. But a depleted Clippers lineup could not sustain a strong start.

Cuttino Mobley added 16 for Los Angeles, and Tim Thomas and Josh Powell each had 12.

Coming off a season-high 33 points in Wednesday's win over Atlanta, rookie Al Thornton was held to 10 points on 1-for-15 shooting.

"It's the life of a rookie. He probably started pressing a little bit," Dunleavy said.

The Wolves also started slow against Chicago on Wednesday, but put it together to beat the Bulls 83-67. The 16-point win was Minnesota's largest margin of victory of the season before Friday.

"We're growing, progressing, and showing a lot of character out there on the floor," Wittman said. We've won five out of seven. We should have some confidence now."

Game notes
The Clippers have lost 145 man-games to injury this season and have used 20 different starting lineups. ... The Minnesota presidential caucus is Tuesday, and candidates are descending on the state. Democrat Barack Obama has an event at Target Center on Saturday, and Republican Mitt Romney will also campaign in the Twin Cities. ... Dunleavy didn't have much of a reaction about the other team from Los Angeles trading for Memphis' Pau Gasol. "I've got enough to worry about with my team," he said. ... Wittman said the deal makes the Lakers an instant contender in the West.

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