NBA coaches usually take one of two divergent approaches in the last pre-season game. Either they'll use it as one last chance to get things right, and hew as closely to their regular season rotation as is reasonable in their final dress rehearsal. Or they'll go to the other extreme, rest their best players to have them fresh for the start of the season, assuming that they've gotten everything they need to get out of the pre-season already.
Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers may have to try a mixed approach tonight against the Sacramento Kings. It's clear that Chris Paul doesn't really need the work, and maybe Rivers will covet that extra bit of rest for Paul and Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan before the games start to count on Tuesday against the Lakers. On the other hand, with J.J. Redick having only just joined the lineup in Wednesday's game and Matt Barnes finally expected to make his pre-season debut tonight, Rivers has barely seen his expected starters together, and has yet to see his top second unit.
Given the need to get Redick and Paul some more game experience together, it seems almost certain that Rivers will go with his regular starters and probably with his best guess of his real rotation for large portions of the game.
It just so happens that this is the second time the Clippers and Kings have played each other this pre-season, and in the previous meeting, Paul, Griffin and Jordan did all rest in the midst of a stretch of three games in four nights. Rivers may or may not care about that, but knowing Paul, he'll be champing at the bit to get on the court to show the Kings that their win in Sacramento meant nothing. And if I were the head coach, I'd relish the opportunity to challenge Jordan to step up and stop DeMarcus Cousins, who went for 31 points in 28 minutes in that earlier encounter.
What to watch for:
Jordan and Cousins. Assuming both coaches are playing their top unit, this is the matchup of the night. Jordan has had a good pre-season and has played some good defense both on and off the ball. Cousins is a great challenge for him.
Barnes. Assuming he plays, how will Matt Barnes look? Remember, this is his first appearance since signing the first big money contract of his NBA career. Barnes has always excelled as that guy overachieving on an inexpensive deal -- this year, he's expected to be a factor and he's being paid to be a factor.
Redick. Redick looked great running off screens in his first game back, and got a spate of open looks. He only made 4-12, but those shots will fall. I expect a few more of them to fall in this one.
Lou Amundson. With the season looming, Amundson remains on the bubble for the Clippers' final available roster spot. Will the team start the keep him and use up their last roster spot? Or waive him and enter the season with 13 healthy bodies (Maalik Wayns is out for about six weeks)? This is his last chance to make a case in game action. I'm guessing they waive him, but it could easily go either way.
Rotations and minutes. Will the coaches opt to work on their regular season rotations, or look for the first chance to pull their stars?