Clippers-Kings preview: Nearing full health

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The Clippers are almost certainly going to finish as the third seed no matter what they do for the rest of the season, but this is a chance to get Jamal Crawford back on the court and find a playoff groove.

2013/2014 NBA Regular Season
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vs
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55-24

27-52
April 12th, 2014, 12:30 PM
STAPLES Center
Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Win-Loss Breakdown
21-9 East 13-17
34-15 West 14-35
32-7 Home 16-23
23-17 Road 11-29
29-17 .500+ 12-37
26-7 .500- 15-15
7-3 L10 3-7
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Ray McCallum
J.J. Redick SG Ben McLemore
Matt Barnes SF Rudy Gay
Blake Griffin PF Jason Thompson
DeAndre Jordan C DeMarcus Cousins
Advanced Stats
98.37 (6th of 30) Pace 96.64 (14th of 30)
109.3 (2nd of 30) ORtg 102.9 (18th of 30)
101.9 (7th of 30) DRtg 106.2 (23rd of 30)
Injuries/Other
Jamal Crawford (calf) probable
Isaiah Thomas (bruisied quad) out
Danny Granger (hamstring) out

Carl Landry (meniscus surgery) out

Jason Terry (knee surgery) out

The Back Story (The Clippers lead the season series 3-0):

Date Venue Final

11/01/13 Sacramento Clippers 110, Thunder 101 Recap Box
11/23/13 Los Angeles Clippers 103, Kings 102 Recap Box
11/29/13 Sacramento Clippers 104, Thunder 98 Recap Box

The Big Picture:

The playoff picture is becoming more clear, although it has still yet to snap into place completely for the Clippers. Houston's loss last night to Minnesota clinched no worse than the third seed for the Clippers, their highest playoff seed since moving to California. The loss to Oklahoma City on Wednesday doesn't put the second seed completely out of reach, but OKC would have to lose three of their remaining four games while the Clippers won all of theirs -- no likely. So it's all but certain that the Clippers will be the third seed. Who they'll play is less clear, although the Warriors are currently in sixth and have the best chance of finishing sixth. Having said all of that, even if the Clippers are essentially locked into the three seed, it doesn't mean they have nothing left to play for during the regular season. It's further down the road, but in a finals matchup with Miami, the Clippers would currently have the home court advantage as they have a better record -- but they're only a game ahead in the loss column and Miami owns the tie breaker. It may not come into play, but if it does the Clippers would certainly want to have have HCA in the NBA Finals against the defending champs. There are other advantages to playing well -- for one thing, they need just one more win to tie last season's record for wins in a season, and two more wins to break the record. And of course playing well is a goal unto itself heading into the playoffs. To that end, Jamal Crawford is likely returning to the lineup tonight after sitting out off and on since the beginning of March. If Crawford does play, the Clippers take one more step towards full health for the first time this season. Only Danny Granger, whose hamstring will keep him out until the playoffs, is still hurt. The Clippers have beaten the Kings three times this season, all of the meetings coming back in November, though none of the victories have come easy. Since those meetings, Sacramento has traded for Rudy Gay.

The Antagonist:

The Kings have three players averaging over 20 points per game -- and the third worst record in the western conference. That tells you about all you need to know. DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay and Isaiah Thomas (who is currently injured) can all score, but it's far from clear that they are winners. Thomas has had a break out season -- which actually works against the Kings now, as he was a second round pick and is a free agent. In other words, he's going to be making a whole lot more than a second round salary next season -- and that might be somewhere other than Sacramento. The Kings don't have much more than pride to play for right now, but they truly don't like the Clippers, so that's probably motivation enough.

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics. The Clippers defensive efficiency has gone from 28th to 21st to 16th in the last two games. They haven't been able to stop the Kings so far this season, so they'll have to play better if they want their defensive rating to continue improving.
  • Different team. The Clippers played the Kings three times way back in November. Over four months have passed since the last meeting, and the Kings have completed three fairly important trade since the start of the season. They traded Luc-Richard Mbah a Moute to Minnesota for Derrick Williams. They traded Greivis Vasquez and three other players to Toronto for Rudy Gay. And they traded Marcus Thornton to Brooklyn to make room on the court for rookie Ben McLemore. At least Blake Grifffin won't have to deal with the departed Chuck Hayes.
  • Bad blood. We've known for a while that DeMarcus Cousins does not like Blake Griffin. At this point it has become obvious that Boogie doesn't much like Chris Paul either, and in fact it seems like maybe he doesn't like anybody on the Clippers. Cousins was on the edge in all of the first three games; watch him closely in this one, because something is going to happen.
  • McLemore. When the Clippers played the Kings four months ago in the third game of the season, I asked Aykis of Sactown Royalty when he thought lottery pick Ben McLemore would crack the starting lineup in Sacramento. Well, it turns out that the correct answer was Game 7 of his rookie season. He hasn't exactly been a world beater in the NBA so far -- he's shooting a dreadful 37% from the field -- but at the same time, they like him and they expect him to be a big part of their future.
  • The other rookie. The Kings have another rookie guard they like a lot in Ray McCallum. In fact, with Thomas out, they'll start a rookie backcourt tonight.
  • No Thomas. The Clippers showed little ability to stop Isaiah Thomas in the first three games so it figures to be a bit of good fortune that he's not playing in this one.
  • Connections. Travis Outlaw (who has been surprisingly productive off the Kings bench) was briefly a Clipper in 2010 and he was signed by the Kings after being amnestied by the Nets last season. Matt Barnes played high school basketball and football at Del Campo High in Sacramento. Willie Green and Kings rookie Ray McCallum are the two active NBA players from Detroit Mercy (Go Titans!). The recently acquired King Reggie Evans was a Clipper two seasons ago.
  • Get the Kings perspective at Sactown Royalty.
  • Shakespearean reference:
    Sonnet LXIV (69)
    Against my love shall be, as I am now,
    With Time's injurious hand crush'd and o'er-worn;
    When hours have drain'd his blood and fill'd his brow
    With lines and wrinkles; when his youthful morn
    Hath travell'd on to age's steepy night,
    And all those beauties whereof now he's king
    Are vanishing or vanish'd out of sight,
    Stealing away the treasure of his spring;
    For such a time do I now fortify
    Against confounding age's cruel knife,
    That he shall never cut from memory
    My sweet love's beauty, though my lover's life:
    .   His beauty shall in these black lines be seen,
    .   And they shall live, and he in them still green.
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