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Clippers vs. Sacramento - Game Preview

2010/2011 NBA Regular Season

Staples Center
December 6th, 2010, 7:30 PM
FSN Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM
Probable starters:
Eric Bledsoe
PG Tyreke Evans
 Eric Gordon SG Beno Udrih
Al-Farouq Aminu
SF Donte Greene
Blake Griffin
PF Jason Thompson
DeAndre Jordan
C DeMarcus Cousins


The Back Story:

The Big Picture:

The Clippers return to Staples Center for a four game home stand after an incredibly frustrating trip two game trip that saw them lose close games in Denver and Portland. Those losses left LA 0-10 on the road, but they've won three of their last four at home, including an 18 point win over Sacramento on Thanksgiving night. The good news from the Denver-Portland trip is that the team is playing hard and battling to the final whistle. But there's also some bad news. For one thing, the Clippers continue to be terrible from the line. They're one of two NBA teams shooting worse than 70%, and their 17 misses last night in Portland cost them a win (not the first time this season that's happened). The other bad news is that Chris Kaman re-tweaked his injured left ankle. He left the Portland game and is almost certainly going to miss tonight's game and at least a few more. In contrast to Kaman's ill-fated return, Baron Davis has been terrific for LA since returning to action three games ago. He will no doubt reassume the starting duties soon. If this game were not the second of a back to back, I'd say this would be the one for sure. It still could be. The Clippers continue to be led by Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon. Griffin has registered 8 consecutive double doubles, and is one of three players averaging 20/10. If he made his free throws, he'd be hands down the most productive big in the NBA. Gordon has been uncannily consistent this season, scoring at least 19 points in all but one game he's played. EJ has had slow starts in many of his games lately - if he can ever get out of the gate quickly, he could have a monster night.

The Antagonist:

The Kings are a mess. They've lost 13 of 14. They don't have a consistent rotation. They're near the bottom of the league in offensive and defensive efficiency. Their Rookie of the Year from last season is in a sophomore slump. And their lottery pick this year is at odds with the coaching staff, and recently got tossed out of practice. After starting the season with three wins in four games (against, it must be said, terrible competition), they are now tied with the Clippers for fewest wins in the league with 4, and a Clippers win tonight will leave them alone at the bottom of the barrel. They do not have a win against a decent team this season. Of course, the Clippers don't currently fall into the 'decent team' category, and they have a bad habit of losing games to bad teams. Portland ended a six game losing streak against the Clippers last night. It would not be surprising if the Clippers played a dud of a game and allowed the Kings to end their seven game losing streak tonight. Certainly the Kings have to be looking at this game as one they have a chance to win, which will give them a little extra bounce in their step.

The Subplots

  • Tough back to back. Portland is out here on the West Coast with LA, but the flight from Portland to LA is not a short one. This is one of the tougher back to backs in the league, and the Clippers played a tough, physical game last night.
  • Kaman's ankle. It's hard to say what happened to Chris Kaman's ankle last night. It did not appear to turn over watching the play where he came up hobbling. There was some indication that Chris was pushing to get back in the lineup and that he was being overly aggressive about it. We can applaud the enthusiasm; but these are the consequences of returning before your body is ready.
  • The King of Beasts Beasts the Kings. Blake Griffin scored 25 points and grabbed 15 rebounds when these teams met on Thanksgiving night. In the Clippers only pre-season win, he went for 18 and 13 in 23 minutes against them. The Kings are not a good defensive team, and they have absolutely no answer for Griffin. The Kings seemed to be suffering from a severe case of posterphobia in the last meeting - no one would even challenge Griffin as he flew to the rim for dunk after dunk.
  • Pick and roll. In that Turkey Day game, the Clippers destroyed the Kings on the pick and roll. Gordon and Griffin were able to slice and dice the defense for dunks and layups all night. Gordon finished the game with 28 points and 6 assists. Unless the Kings have improved their P&R defense significantly, you can expect more of the same tonight.
  • Make your free throws, Blake. A little quick math shows that if Blake Griffin were making 75% of his free throws instead of 57%, he would have scored 31 additional points this season. That would raise his average up above 22 points per game. Bear in mind also that his poor free throw shooting makes him a target. It's just good strategy to clobber the guy right now.
  • Make your threes, Eric. As long as I've got the calculator out, let's do the what if on Eric Gordon's three point shooting also. In his first two seasons in the NBA, EJ shot 38% from deep. Although he's been marginally better lately, he's still mired at 24% overall this season. Were he shooting his normal 38%, he'd have made 13 more threes, for 39 more points, raising his points per game average to over 26, which would place him third in the NBA in scoring.
  • Worst Team in the NBA. The Clippers have the distinction of having the worst record, but there's little question as to who the worst team in the NBA is right now. The Kings are on a seven game losing streak, and have just a single victory in their last 14 games. A Clippers win tonight actually gets them out of the cellar for the first time in forever.
  • No lineup, no rotation. As befits a team that is struggling mightily, the Kings don't even have any idea what their lineup is at this point. Coach Paul Westphal (not my favorite coach after what he did to the Pepperdine basketball program during his brief stay in Malibu) has only one starter that he's stuck with all season, Tyreke Evans. He has tried Beno Udrih, Luther Head and Francisco Garcia at shooting guard. Donte Greene and Omri Casspi have both started at small forward. Jason Thompson recently replaced Carl Landry at the power forward. And DeMarcus Cousins has gone from starter, to backing up Samuel Dalembert, back to starter at center. The fact that Cousins is back in the starting lineup now is particularly surprising given that he was recently kicked out of practice. (Dalembert's achy knees may have something to do with Cousins starting now.) The Clippers have had a lot of starting lineups - but it's been due to injuries. Other than the small forward, there's no question about who the starters are in LA when the players are healthy.
  • PER. PER is not the be all end all, and Dave Berri of Wages of Win fame would say that it's totally disconnected from wins and losses. There's a stark example of this with the Clippers and the Kings. PER assumes that a score of 15 is an average NBA player - the Kings have one player above 15 for the season on their roster, and that's Udrih at a mediocre 15.3. The Clippers meanwhile have Blake Griffin at 21.6 and Eric Gordon at 20.8, which is a borderline all star level. And yet each team has only 4 wins, and the Clippers have 3 more losses.
  • Tyreke. In the Clippers victory 11 days ago, Kings leading scorer Tyreke Evans shot just 2 for 13 and was a non-factor. His numbers are way off from last season, mainly because he's only shooting 41% from the field. He had a good game against Dallas Saturday, scoring 25 and shooting 11 for 20. It was the first time he'd scored as much as 25 or made more than half his shots since November 6th.
  • Landry. Carl Landry has always played well against the Clippers. When he was traded from the Rockets to the Kings, he immediately became the full time starter. Unfortunately, he also immediately became a much less efficient scorer. In Houston he never shot less than 54% from the field. This season he's shooting about 46%. Is it because Houston's offense got him better shots? Or is it because he's not good enough to score in volume, as he's been asked to do in Sacramento? Landry lost his starting job to Jason Thompson four games ago, which is pretty surprising as he was viewed as one of the Kings solid building blocks going into the season.
  • Sign of life?  The Kings played possibly their best game of the season on Saturday, losing to a streaking Dallas team by 2 points in a game that went down to the wire. Unfortunately, they blew a 9 point lead over the course of the final six minutes. We'll get our first clue tonight as to whether that game is a spring board to better things, or a disheartening loss in an already lost season.
  • Three point defense. The Clippers fortunes this season continue to be tied almost directly to their opponent's three point shooting. The Clippers are winless in 15 games in which the opponent has made more than 38% of their threes. They're 4-2 in the other games, and one of those was the double OT loss in Utah. This bodes well for tonight, since the Kings are 28th in the league in three point shooting at 32%.
  • Superstar for one game: Beno Udrih. Udrih lit up the Clippers for his career-high a couple of seasons ago in LA.
  • Famous Quotation: 

    Just as there are not two suns in the sky, so a country cannot have two kings.
    Chinese proverb.
  • Get the Kings perspective at Sactown Royalty.