Clippers-Kings preview: A winning road season

USA TODAY Sports

The Clippers can clinch a winning road record for the first time in franchise history with a win over the Kings in Sacramento tonight.

2012/2013 NBA Regular Season
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46-21

23-44
March 19th, 2012, 7:00 PM
Sleep Train Arena
Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Clippers Tickets
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Isaiah Thomas
Chauncey Billups SG Tyreke Evans?
Caron Butler SF John Salmons
Blake Griffin PF Jason Thompson
DeAndre Jordan C Patrick Patterson
Advanced Stats through games of March 18
91.4 (17th of 30) Pace 93.2 (9th of 30)
110.1 (5th of 30) ORtg 105.7 (15th of 30)
102.9 (7th of 30) DRtg 111.4 (29th of 30)
Injuries
Eric Bledsoe (calf) doubtful
Tyreke Evans (foot) questionable
Ronny Turiaf (knee) questionable
DeMarcus Cousins (thigh) doubtful


James Johnson (personal) out

The Back Story:

-- December 1, 2012 in Los Angeles | Clippers 116, Kings 81 | Recap | Box Score

-- December 21, 2012 in Los Angeles | Clippers 97, Kings 85 | Recap | Box Score

    The Big Picture:

    With 15 games remaining, the Clippers hold a half game lead over both the Memphis Grizzlies and the Denver Nuggets for third place in the Western Conference. In addition to their slight lead, the Clippers also have the easier schedule in the season's final month, playing nine of their final 15 games against teams with losing records. Of course, that's only an advantage if you actually beat those losing teams, and the Clippers can get one of those wins tonight against the Kings. A win in this one would give this Clippers team something that no other team in franchise history has ever done -- a winning record on the road. The 05-06 Brand/Cassell Clippers finished 20-21 on the road, and last year's team finished with a 16-17 road record in the lockout shortened season. But at 20-13, a win tonight would guarantee a winning road record for the first time ever. The Clippers have won two prior games over the Kings fairly easily, blowing them out in the first meeting. It's been awhile since the Clippers have lost to a team they were definitely supposed to beat. With a month left in the season, this is no time for bad losses.

    The Antagonist:

    The Kings have the third worst record in the Western Conference, but they also have a winning record at home. We're long past the point of the season where some teams are thinking more about the draft lottery than about winning games, and the Kings are grouped with several other teams in the league standings -- nine teams have between 40 and 46 losses, so an extra loss here or there can make a difference. But with the future of the franchise in Sacramento up in the air, the Kings may have a little more incentive to play for their home fans than other teams do. DeMarcus Cousins has missed the last couple of games with a bruised quadriceps muscle and he did not practice Monday, so it seems unlikely that he'll play tonight. That's a big loss for the Kings, as he's their leading scorer and probably their most talented player. Without Cousins, Patrick Patterson, acquired at the trade deadline from Houston, will probably get the start Chuck Hayes will also see more minutes, much to the dismay of Blake Griffin. The Kings are an up and down team -- just last Wednesday they beat Chicago by 42, so they can certainly be dangerous, especially at home.

    The Subplots

    • Comparison of key metrics. The Kings offensive efficiency is right at the league average, but they are the second worst defensive team in the league, not quite as bad as the Bobcats.
    • Tyreke Evans. Tyreke Evans has been dealing with various ailments all season, and he missed both of the first two games against the Clippers. He missed Monday's practice with a sore foot and is questionable for this game. If he can't play, they'll probably start Marcus Thornton in his place.
    • Friendly closing schedule. There are challenging games mixed in to be sure (at San Antonio, at Memphis, a four-games-in-five-nights road trip next week, etc.) but the Clippers have a LOT of patsies among their final 15 games. There are six sub-.500 Western Conference teams -- and eight of L.A.'s final 15 games come against those teams. Again, that's only helpful if you beat those teams, but the Clippers certainly have an accommodating schedule for hanging onto the third seed.
    • Milestones. Entering the final month the best season in Clippers history, there are going to be milestones almost every night. A win tonight not only sets the franchise record for road wins, but also ties the record for most regular season wins since the team moved to California (47 set by the 05-06 team). After that, 49 is the all time record, and then we'll be into the team's first 50 win season. It's all bound to happen in these last 15 games -- hopefully sooner rather than later.
    • Sleep Train Arena. It's certainly not easy for small market NBA teams. Even if they draw well, it's hard to charge as much for tickets as you can in a bigger market, and there's never going to be as much money for local TV contracts. And then there's the question of arena naming rights. Arenas in big cities are named for banks and airlines and national retail chains like Staples and Target. After their deal with Arco expired, the Kings played a couple of seasons in Power Balance Arena (promoting a plastic bracelet that falsely claims to make you a better athlete) and now the naming rights belong to a local mattress store. Somehow I'm guessing the naming rights for Sleep Train Arena brought in less than say the United Center in Chicago.
    • Paul in the post. Chris Paul likes to post up small guards. If he can get a catch in the mid post, he's so clever, such a good shooter and so good off the dribble, that he can be very effective. And you dare not send help at him because he'll obviously find the open cutter for a layup if you do. Most of the time Paul is posting guards who are small, but are still bigger than he is, since almost every guard in the league is bigger than he is. Against Sacramento, he'll be matched up with 5'9 (if that) Isaiah Thomas. Paul will feel like a power forward next to the diminutive Thomas.
    • Why the Kings are still scary. The Kings could win this game if the Clippers take them lightly. As I mentioned, they just blew Chicago out last week. Tyreke Evans hasn't played against the Clippers this season, but he's had some big games against them in the past, so if he plays tonight he could be trouble. Meanwhile, Marcus Thornton has had some big games against the Clippers as well, including hitting six threes in the first meeting. Finally, no one in the NBA defends Blake Griffin better than Chuck Hayes (though Keith Smart seemed to ignore that fact in the first two meetings). The Clippers certainly should win, but the Kings have enough talent to cause trouble.
    • Connections. Travis Outlaw was briefly a Clipper in 2010 before travelling to "terrible contract ville" and "amnesty land" and eventually "Sacramento". Matt Barnes played high school basketball and football at Del Campo High in Sacramento. DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson and Eric Bledsoe were college teammates for one season in Kentucky before becoming NBA first round draft picks in the 2010 draft. James Johnson and Chris Paul are two of the seven current NBA players who went to Wake Forest. Clipper head coach Vinny Del Negro was originally a second round pick of the Kings in 1988 and played two seasons in Sacramento.
    • Get the Kings perspective Sactown Royalty.
    • Lyrical reference:

      Don't Go Away -- Toad the Wet Sprocket

      we were sharing so many words and feelings
      age is heavier, it seems, than years alone
      but, I told you things I wouldn't dream of telling anyone
      are we drifting out, like flowers from a forgotten someone

      don't go away
      I can't feel the same without you

      we were making so many plans and secrets
      we would both be millionaires or kings or presidents
      but like everything those little dreams
      just kind of came and went
      hard now just to make end meet
      how soon we all forget


      Toad the Wet Sprocket is one of those bands that I like a lot, but I don't really listen to that much. I have a couple of their CDs and I always enjoy listening to them, but I don't have a great attachment to them. I'm not even sure what era they're from or how I came to own their CDs. They just sort of appeared on my iPod one day.
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