Clippers Vs. Kings - Game Preview

2011/2012 NBA Regular Season
Power Balance Pavilion
March 1st, 2012, 7:00 PM
FSN Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM
Probable starters:
Chris Paul
PG Isaiah Thomas
Randy Foye
SG Marcus Thornton
Caron Butler SF Tyreke Evans
Blake Griffin PF Jason Thompson
DeAndre Jordan C DeMarcus Cousins

The Back Story:

First meeting of the season. The Clippers won three of four meetings last year.

The Big Picture:

The feeling around the Clippers is as down as it has been in months. The team has lost three of four games for the first time this season, and the Pacific Division lead is down to a half game over the dreaded Lakers. Not even to mention the Clipper Darrell debacle (the Dar-bacle?). A loss to the lowly Kings would really hurt. So the Clippers need this win. They need to get some good feelings flowing around the team again, they need to get their six game road trip off to a good start, they need to get some players back on track -- they need to WIN. In order to do so, they're going to have to get more support for Chris Paul and Blake Griffin -- and they're going to have to make more of a commitment to defense. Griffin and Paul were terrific against Minnesota Tuesday, and DeAndre Jordan played well also, but the rest of the team was pretty terrible. Caron Butler was 1 for 10 for two points and Mo Williams was 4 for 12 for eight. With Chauncey Billups out, the Clippers can't win if the entire scoring load falls on Paul and Griffin.

The Antagonist:

You have to admit, the Kings have not been afraid to shake things up this season. Ten days into the season they fired head coach Paul Westphal and handed the reins to Keith Smart. It wasn't a surprise that the Kings were 2-5 when they fired Westphal, but the fact that the coach had been trashing the young and uber-talented DeMarcus Cousins at every opportunity was unacceptable. With a new more supportive coach, Cousins is averaging 16.6 points and 11.5 rebounds per game -- he clearly has the talent to be the next great center in a league without very many of those. But he remains emotional and immature, so the jury is still out. The next bold move the Kings made was to bench the unproductive John Salmons (the highest paid player on the team), move Tyreke Evans to small forward and insert Isaiah Thomas, the last pick in last June's draft, into the starting lineup. Replacing your highest paid player with a second round pick is a gutsy move, and the Kings offense has been better since it happened, and they've actually won two straight games. But the team clearly has issues. Evans isn't really a three -- he's just one of the guys they need to have on the floor. Meanwhile, the defense has been terrible, and the 5'9" Thomas probably isn't helping matters a lot there. But depending on what you think about Evans (the NBA Rookie of the Year in 2010), Cousins and leading scorer Marcus Thornton, the Kings may have a young core to build around, not too mention a ton of cap space, a rabid fan base and apparently a new arena on the way. So things are looking up in Sacramento.

The Subplots

  • [Note by Steve Perrin, 03/01/12 1:41 PM PST ] Chuck Hayes. I realized as I was reading some comments over at Sactown Royalty that I should have mentioned the Chuck Hayes factor. Nobody in the NBA - nobody - played Blake Griffin tougher than Hayes last season. If the Kings coach is really 'Smart' (get it?) he'll start Hayes at power forward and have him on the floor whenever Griffin is in the game. And if he does that, the Clippers could be in for a long night.
  • Sorry for the late preview. I didn't get to it last night, and then the Clipper Darrell thing required some attention this morning.
  • Tonight's Special Guest Recapper: Citizen John Raffo. Plan on staying up late enough to see what SwamiRaffo has to say about the game.
  • Kings Q&A. In anticipation of the game, I asked some questions of Tom Ziller from SBNation's Kings blog, Sactown Royalty. Head over there for my answers to his questions.
  • Key Kings Metrics:
    Pace: 93.6 (3rd of 30 NBA teams)
    Off Rtg: 100.5 (24th of 30)
    Def Rtg: 108.5 (28th of 30)
    The Kings play fast, but they're not particularly good on offense, and they're downright bad on defense. The Kings are inconsistent -- they've been blown out man times, which kills their overall numbers, but they've also beaten some good teams.
  • Key Clippers Metrics:
    Pace: 89.8 (23rd of 30)
    Off Rtg: 108.0 (3rd of 30)
    Def Rtg: 105.5 (21st of 30)
    That defensive disaster against Minnesota Tuesday added half a point to the Clippers D Rating all by itself. Yikes.
  • Butler's slump. One of the best things about Caron Butler in his first season as a Clipper has been his consistency. In his first 25 games, he scored in double figures 22 times. Unfortunately, in his last five games, he's been in double figures just once. In those five games, he's averaging 7 points per game and shooting under 30%. And it's not as if Ryan Gomes or the newly added Bobby Simmons have shown any indication of picking up the lost production at the small forward spot.
  • Williams' slump. Great Googly Moogly! I knew Mo Williams had tailed off some, but I really had no idea how bad it had gotten in February. For the month of January, Mo was white hot. He shot 53% overall and 47% from three in 12 games in January. In February it's been a completely different story. Like 35% overall and 31% from three different. In 8 of 14 games in the month, he made a third or fewer of his shots -- including games of 2 for 16 and 2 for 10. The addition of Kenyon Martin seemed to make the Clippers bench viable -- but it Williams is going to shoot 35%, the bench is once again a huge problem, as it was against Minnesota Tuesday.
  • Happy Birthday, Power Balance Pavilion. It was March 1 2011 when ARCO Arena became Power Balance Pavilion. The last time the Clippers played the Kings was February 28 2011, the last game when it was still known as ARCO. Of course, there's no Cake song called Power Balance Pavilion, which proves that ARCO Arena was a better name.
  • Tyreke Evans, small forward. Evans had a great rookie campaign resulting in the Rookie of the Year award (that would have been Blake Griffin's rookie season but he got hurt, and Ricky Rubio stayed in Spain that year, so two of the top five picks in the draft were out of the running, but still). But even as a rookie, it was unclear what position he played. He needs the ball in his hands for his relentless forays to the rim, but his 1.9 assist-to-turnover ration was decidedly un-point-guard-like. That year he was paired in the backcourt with Beno Udrih, and the two of them shared the ball handling duties. In his second season he was never right physically, battling plantar fasciitas all season, and his numbers all took a big decline. This season he's somewhere in between, but his shooting percentages have got to be a concern. Udrih was gone, replaced in the backcourt by Marcus Thornton, who is never going to be mistaken for a point guard. So Keith Smart moved Evans to small forward before the All Star break, and looking at his splits at least his shooting has been better since then. The Kings clearly need him (or to be clear, what they need is 2010 Tyreke) but they seem to be struggling to find the right role for him.
  • Westphal. I will never forgive Paul Westphal for running the Pepperdine basketball program into the ground. The Waves will be playing in the West Coast Conference at the same time as Clippers-Kings tonight, and will probably finish another dismal season -- they're seventh straight losing season since Westphal's last year in Malibu.
  • Pacific Division race. The Clippers have been fairly solidly in first place in the Pacific Division for a few weeks now. But after Minnesota split their LA back-to-back the wrong way, the Lakers sit just a half game behind the Clippers. A loss to the Kings (who then travel south to play the Lakers on a back-to-back on Friday) would give the other LA all the momentum.
  • Nothing is easy in the West. I've mentioned on several occasions that the Clippers played only two games before the All Star break against the 'lottery' teams in the West (the four teams at the bottom of the standings, the ones who haven't really been in the playoff race this season). LA has 12 games against those teams in the remainder of the season, beginning tonight, and that's good news. But those teams may not be all that bad after all. Golden State is currently tied with Utah in the loss column, so drawing a line between the Jazz and the Warriors seems pretty arbitrary at this point. The Suns, whom the Clippers face on Friday, are just a game back of the Warriors. The Kings have a winning record at home this season. These teams are not Washington and Charlotte who the Clippers saw on their last six game trip. The Clippers definitely need to beat them, but the Kings and Suns should certainly be taken seriously. Of course, this Western Conference problem impacts all of the teams in the West, not just the Clippers.
  • Start of a back-to-back. The Clippers have to leave directly after the game to head to Phoenix for an ESPN game against the Suns tomorrow night. And so it begins....
  • Start of a brutal month. ... because the Clippers are in for a brutal month in March. In 31 days, the Clippers will play 20 games. To put that in perspective, they played 15 in the 31 days in January. Eight of the games occur without a rest day, five of those with travel in between the games. From March 11 to March 22, they play 9 games in 12 days. I'm getting tired just thinking of the previews and recaps -- they actually have to play those games!
  • 60th pick. Isaiah Thomas was the 60th pick in June's draft, the last pick in the second round. I often wonder if that guy, that 60th pick, even wants to be drafted at that point. Second round picks do not receive guaranteed contracts. By being picked, his rights went to the Kings to negotiate a contract and try to make the team -- if his name had not been called, he could have tried to catch on with any of the 30 teams in the league. The fact that the Kings picked him meant that they liked him more than the other players available -- but that's all it meant. Of course, for Thomas it was better than it is for most 60th picks. The last pick belongs to the team with the best record, so the odds of a second round pick making that team are not great. The Bulls second rounder happened to end up with Sacramento, and Sacramento happened to be a very good situation for Thomas, so it all worked out.
  • Cousins versus the Clippers. During his rookie season, DeMarcus Cousins was pretty dismal against the Clippers. He averaged 7.8 points, 7.5 rebounds, shot 30% from the field and 44% from the line. Partly because I've seen him look so bad against the Clippers, I'm having trouble relating to reports of a new and improved Cousins. We'll see if he's figured out the Clippers tonight.
  • Very different Kings team. The last time the Clippers played the Kings, just over one year ago, the Kings were a very different team. Beno Udrih, Omri Casspi and Samuel Dalembert were all starting -- now those guys are all gone. Marcus Thornton had only been with the club for a couple of games -- now he's the leading scorer and a big part of their plans going forward.
  • From the Urban Dictionary:


    n. Someone who doesn't have shit all over them.

    From Monty Python and the Holy Grail:
    First person: "Who's that?"
    Second person: "Must be a King."
    First person: "Why?"
    Second person: "He doesn't have shit all over him."
  • Get the Kings perspective at Sactown Royalty.
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