The Back Story (Clippers lead season series, 2-0)
The Big Picture:
The Clippers have played a lot of tough teams in November, but they've also played the Sacramento Kings twice so far and play them again tonight in the final game of the month. The Clippers are 2-0 against the Kings, but they've made it tough on themselves both times. Twice now they've allowed the Kings to come all the way back from a big deficit, and while they weathered the storm relatively well the first time, they were more than a little lucky to escape with a win six days ago in LA. Have the Clippers lost their intensity against the Kings, or have the Kings simply outplayed the Clippers for long stretches? It's difficult to say. The Clippers have a home game against the Indiana Pacers, owners of the best record in the NBA, on Sunday, followed by a seven game road trip, so they'd be wise to take this one seriously and get a win, because they may have a few losses in their immediate future. This game may hinge on whether Chris Paul is 100 percent after tweaking his hamstring in the third quarter of the Clippers' win over New York on Wednesday. Paul has saved the Clippers in both of the Kings games this season -- he hit a crucial late game three pointers at the end of the shot clock in each one -- so if he can't play, and the Clippers fall behind the Kings again, they won't have anyone to come to the rescue.
The Kings have twice come close to beating the Clippers, and twice come up a bit short, and DeMarcus Cousins for one is NOT pleased about. As it happens, Cousins has gotten fourth quarter technical fouls in each of the first two meetings, fouls that were part of the momentum shift back to the Clippers. Then, at the conclusion of the game in LA, Cousins refused to shake hands with any Clippers, and went so far as to pull his teammate, Isaiah Thomas, away when Thomas tried to show some sportsmanship. Other than that, Cousins has been great, scoring and rebounding at an high level -- the Clippers have shown very little ability to stop him. Likewise Thomas, the top bench scorer in the NBA so far this season, has been almost unstoppable in the first two meetings. Part of the reason that the Clippers have built leads and then lost them is that Thomas isn't in the starting lineup -- when he's out, the Clippers have handled the Kings pretty well, but Sacramento has scored almost at will when Thomas and Cousins are in the game. If Cousins and Thomas continue to torment the Clippers, the Kings could certainly come away with a win in this one. Cousins would certainly be happy about that.
- 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.
- Day after Thanksgiving. The game is happening the day after Thanksgiving. Which means that I'm writing this preview on Thanksgiving. Which means I'm not really that into writing previews. Which means that it's going to be pretty short. But we know plenty about the Kings at this point, right?
- Derrick Williams. These teams played each other six days ago, and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute was Sacramento's starting small forward at the time. Since then, the Kings traded LRMAM to Minnesota for Derrick Williams, the second pick in the 2011 draft. Williams never got much of a chance in Minnesota, either because he was stuck behind Kevin Love in the rotation, or because he wasn't a good fit, or maybe because he is a classic NBA tweener, not big enough to be a power forward, not quick enough to be a small forward. Sometimes a guy like that -- and by all indications, he's a hard worker, not a head case like Michael Beasley -- just needs a change of scenery. This could be the opportunity he needs. Remember also that Williams had a monster game against the Clippers a couple of seasons ago, beating them almost single-handedly.
- Well rested. In a very unusual NBA scheduling quirk, the Kings have not played since Sunday when they faced the Lakers in Los Angeles. So the Kings have had four full days without a game. They'll be really well rested -- will they also be a bit rusty?
- Sixth man. Thomas is the leading bench scorer in the NBA this season any way you slice it -- total points, points per game, points per minute, whatever. Jamal Crawford of the Clippers is second. It's far too early to be thinking much about awards, but despite Thomas' heroics, Crawford would have to be considered the early leader for the Sixth Man Award, simply because Thomas plays for a team with a losing record, which will probably preclude him from serious consideration.
- 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 has been on the edge in both of the first two games; watch him closely in this one, because something is going to happen.
- McLemore. When the Clippers played the Kings four weeks 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 is Game 7 of his rookie season. He hasn't exactly been a world beater in the NBA so far -- he's shooting 38% from the field -- but at the same time, they like him and they expect him to be a big part of their future, so why not get him in the lineup sooner rather than later? I like it.
- Stopping Thomas and Cousins. The Clippers have shown little ability to stop either Cousins or Thomas in the first two games. Part of the problem has been defending without fouling. Thomas has been to the line 23 times in the first two games -- far above his season average. The Clippers need to get some stops, and stop fouling.
- 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!).
- Get the Kings perspective at Sactown Royalty.
- Shakespearean reference:
Sonnet CXV (115)
Those lines that I before have writ do lie,
Even those that said I could not love you dearer:
Yet then my judgment knew no reason why
My most full flame should afterwards burn clearer.
But reckoning time, whose million'd accidents
Creep in 'twixt vows and change decrees of kings,
Tan sacred beauty, blunt the sharp'st intents,
Divert strong minds to the course of altering things;
Alas, why, fearing of time's tyranny,
Might I not then say 'Now I love you best,'
When I was certain o'er incertainty,
Crowning the present, doubting of the rest?
. Love is a babe; then might I not say so,
. To give full growth to that which still doth grow?