For weeks now, fans and critics alike have been worried about the Los Angeles Clippers' inability to beat the best teams in the NBA. Well, now there's actually something to worry about, as the Clippers lost to one of the worst teams in the NBA, the Sacramento Kings, and in the process dropped to fifth place in the Western Conference.
The Clippers began the day in third place, and with Denver facing the Thunder in Oklahoma City and the Clippers supposedly facing a weaker opponent, they figured to remain in third and extend their slight lead a bit. Instead, the Nuggets registered an impressive win to validate and extend their current winning streak, while the Clippers were on the wrong side of a lopsided fourth quarter, outscored 38-18. The Nuggets now hold a half game lead over the Clippers while the Memphis Grizzlies are percentage points ahead as well.
And based on the way the three teams have been playing recently, it would be difficult to argue that the Clippers will regain their position.
There are plenty of games left of course, and plenty of time to turn things around, but this game is one the Clippers would dearly love to have back. For three quarters it felt as if the Clippers were allowing the Kings to hang around -- that they should have put them away much earlier, but had failed to do so. Little did we know that it was the Kings who were letting the Clippers hang around and would assert themselves in the final quarter.
It didn't help matters for the Clippers that Eric Bledsoe missed his fourth straight game and Chauncey Billups injured his groin early in the second quarter. With Bledsoe and Billups unavailable, the Clippers were down to rookie Malik Wayns, who signed his second 10 day contract earlier in the day, as the only true point guard to back up Chris Paul, or the combination of Jamal Crawford and Grant Hill to handle the ball.
Early in the fourth quarter the Clippers held an eight point lead, their largest of the game. But Paul had yet to sit in the second half, and the Kings went on a 13-0 run while Paul was out of the game. By the time he returned, the Clippers were completely out of sorts. Lamar Odom picked up a technical foul that gave the Kings their first lead since early in the second half. When Odom picked up another foul, DeAndre Jordan replaced him, but the Kings went to a hacking strategy that had the Clipper center embarrassingly skulking around the court trying to avoid being fouled. Basically, the Clippers were a mess the final 10 minutes of the game.
And as out of sorts as they were on offense, they were worse on defense. Or was it just that Sacramento was that good? First it was Tyreke Evans, looking like the Rookie of the Year from three seasons ago, attacking the rim relentlessly. Then the Kings went to a spread offense with DeMarcus Cousins in the post. The put shooters around the perimeter, and played penetrate and kick. During one sequence in the fourth quarter, the Kings made nine consecutive field goals, the final four of them three pointers -- and one of those was a 35 footer by Toney Douglas at the end of the shot clock on a broken play.
The game fits the signature of so many Clipper losses this season -- the Kings absolutely destroyed the Clippers from three point range. Sacramento made 14 three pointers, including five in the fourth quarter. They made half of their 28 three point attempts on the game. The Kings season high for three pointers made is 15. Six different Sacramento players made at least one three pointer, but most of the damage was done by reserve guards Douglas and Marcus Thornton, who combined to make 9-15.
This game also had another characteristic common to many Clipper losses -- Chris Paul was inefficient and ineffective. Paul did have 15 assists, but that was more than counteracted by 2-10 shooting and a season high seven turnovers. Paul has now shot 20% or worse five times this season -- the Clippers are 0-5 in those games. The bottom line is, when he's ineffective on offense, the Clippers are ineffective on offense.
The fact that Paul had to play big minutes in a loss is doubly unfortunate, given that the Clippers have to play again Wednesday night against the Sixers back in L.A. With Bledsoe and Billups out, Paul played 44 minutes, which is a season high for a regulation game. He'll likely need to play big minutes against Philadelphia as well, as it seems probable that both Bledsoe and Billups will still be sidelined.
It's been a long time since the Clippers have lost a game to a team with a losing record. It's possible that this loss will be a wake up call, that they'll become refocused and get back to the kind of play that we saw during an undefeated December.
But if they don't figure it out soon, they could be starting the playoffs on the road against a very good opponent, which could make for a very short postseason.
For the Sacramento perspective visit Sactown Royalty.
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