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Clippers 99 - Sacramento 89 - Kim Hughes Keeps the Game Ball

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I'm going to dash off a quick recap and then head back to the LBC.

In his post game comments, coach Kim Hughes had specific praise for several players.  He called Eric Gordon their go to player down the stretch.  He liked Chris Kaman's game, particularly his rebounding.  He commended Steve Blake for his leadership.  And he liked DeAndre Jordan's activity on defense.  And of course he was happy that the team got a season-high 11 three pointers.

Gordon was clearly the difference for the team tonight.  With Kaman on the bench to start the fourth quarter, Gordon put the team on his back and carried them down the stretch.  He set the tone early with an aggressive drive and jam that was dunk-in worthy.  In all, he scored 14 points in the quarter - on only six shots!  Among his five made field goals were three and-ones and a good old three-pointer.  He finished with a season-high 30 points.

Kaman had a nice game on offense, but I was most impressed with his 16 rebounds, which tied his season high.  He led the team to a 45-32 rebounding advantage against a Kings team that is not necessarily bad on the boards. 

It's not surprising that Steve Blake was better tonight than he was in his Clippers debut - it turns out that two practices with his new teammates is preferable to zero practices with his new teammates.  11 points and 12 assists is yeoman's work.  When Travis Outlaw and Drew Gooden get on the court to add a few more scoring options, Blake is arguably the kind of point guard the Clippers need.  A distributor who can get the ball to Gordon and Kaman and Outlaw, who can also hit the spot up three on a kick out.  I still don't think he'll be a Clipper next year, but he's going to help them win some games down the stretch as he did tonight.

It's interesting that Hughes went out of his way to praise DeAndre without being asked a question about him.  On paper, DJ had rough game - 2 for 7 shooting, 2 turnovers, 5 fouls.  But Hughes said something that I totally agree with - for DJ, it's all about defense.  I've said it before - if DeAndre can block shots, rebound and play post defense, he'll have a career in the NBA.  That's all he has to do to be effective.  He had a horrible time hanging on to the ball tonight - certainly a concern, since good hands are essential to effective post play - but Hughes said he yanked him out of the game when he failed to hustle back on defense, not when he missed shots he lost balls.  DJ's had plenty of 8 for 9 shooting games, and would have been about there tonight if he'd just held onto the ball (he lost or dropped at least four dunks by my count).  But defense is the thing that will get him minutes, and Hughes seems pretty determined to get that message through to him.

The glaring problem with the Clippers tonight, as it has been for awhile, was turnovers.  They committed 24 of them, and Sacramento scored 30 points off of those turnovers.  If LA had taken care of the ball, this game would not have been close at any point in the second half.  EJ, for all of his prowess in the fourth quarter, 7 turnovers in the game (though only one of those came in the fourth).  That's not acceptable.  Some were maybe a little dubious - for instance, the refs were calling the discontinued dribble very closely tonight - but he also had some that were completely on him; a couple of terrible passes at Kaman's feet come immediately to mind.

While we're on the subject, the refs made this game pretty unpleasant to watch tonight.  We all know that NBA players travel a lot and carry the ball a lot, and personally I'd love it if the NBA cleaned that crap up.  But you can't simply begin to call things differently in the 55th game.  It was as if these refs decided that for this game they were gong to go by the rule book. 

Beyond that, there were just some strange calls.  Like at the end of one period, when Bob Delaney clearly waved his arms indicating no shot when Mardy Collins gave the foul the Clippers had to give in the final seconds, and then for some reason changed his mind and decided it was a shooting foul.  Or in the fourth quarter, when six seconds into a new clock, Delaney decided that the shot clock should not have reset.  Never mind that Rodney Mott had already signaled that the ball had hit the rim and that the reset was correct.  The fact that Delaney blew his whistle and stopped the game AFTER Tyreke Evans had gone for a steal and was out of the play as Gordon drove to the basket was particularly annoying.

In the end, the Clippers got the win that Kim Hughes needed.  There may not be a lot of wins in these final 27 games, but hopefully there will be at least a few against the Kings.  We'll see if they can get one against the Bobcats on Monday.