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Clippers-Kings preview: the big finish

Amazingly on the final day of the season, there's still much to be decided. Though a lot of different things can happen, it's pretty simple for the Clippers -- they need to beat the Kings.

2012/2013 NBA Regular Season

April 17th, 2013, 7:30 PM
Sleep Train Arena
Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM, KWW 1330 AM
Buy Clippers Tickets
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Isaiah Thomas
Chauncey Billups SG Marcus Thornton
Caron Butler SF John Salmons
Blake Griffin PF Jason Thompson
DeAndre Jordan C DeMarcus Cousins
Advanced Stats (through games of April 17)
91.1 (19th of 30) Pace 93.6 (8th of 30)
110.5 (4th of 30) ORtg 106.1 (12th of 30)
103.5 (8th of 30) DRtg 111.3 (29th of 30)
Tyreke Evans (quadriceps) out

The Back Story:

-- December 1, 2012 in Los Angeles | Clippers 116, Kings 81 | Recap | Box Score

-- December 21, 2012 in Los Angeles | Clippers 97, Kings 85 | Recap | Box Score

-- March 19, 2013 in Sacramento | Kings 116, Clippers 101 | Recap | Box Score

The Big Picture:

We've played 81 out of 82 games, and there are still four possibilities for the Clippers' season. The most likely outcome is that they will open the playoffs at home against Memphis in the 4-5 matchup. But they could also open on the road against the Grizzlies, or they could move up to the three seed and host either Golden State or Houston. How's that for uncertainty on the final day of the season? Or you could be a Lakers fan and not know if you're going to be the seven seed, the eight seed, or miss the playoffs entirely. Craziness. The Clippers lost a game in Sacramento less than a month ago, and this will be an emotionally charged night in Sacramento given that this could be the final NBA game played in the state capital after 28 years. Truthfully, that March loss probably helps the Clippers tonight, because they'd have have to have amnesia to take the Kings lightly. The Clippers are on a back-to-back -- but none of the starters played in the fourth quarter in a laugher against the Blazers last night; Griffin played 27 minutes and no one else on the roster played more than 25, so fatigue should not be an issue. Nor should motivation since so much is riding on the game. The Kings and the crowd will have plenty of emotion invested in the game, but the Clippers should be focused -- and they'll have a major talent advantage. The Clippers will have no one to blame but themselves if they lose this game -- but they won't.

The Antagonist:

I'm sure there are nuances to the relocation discussion that I don't understand. BUT -- it seems to me there are some basic facts that are inescapable. There's a group of buyers who want to keep the Kings in their current city at a purchase price that would be an NBA record with a commitment to build a new arena. What else does anyone need to know? No city has EVER lost their team in those circumstances, for what I should think are obvious reasons -- why should any city lose their team in those circumstances? Oh, and by the way, if there's a group in Seattle that is willing to pay a record price for the Kings, then why isn't expansion on the table? (And don't get me started on the lockout and how the owners were supposedly on the brink of bankruptcy 18 months ago.) That's what I have to say about that. The Kings versus expansion bit makes a decent transition into talking about this team -- why would anyone want it? Wouldn't starting over from scratch with an expansion draft be preferable? The roster is a mess; the most talented player on the team is incredibly volatile and possibly uncoachable, the second most talented player on the team doesn't have a position in the NBA and the third most talented player on the team is a midget. The Kings as presently constituted can certainly put points on the board as the Clippers found out last month, but they can't stop anyone, and it's difficult to see how they're going to get much better. Cousins certainly has headroom, but he's also a headcase. Evans' numbers have gone down every season he's been in the league, and it's hard to imagine that Isaiah Thomas can get anything more from his 5'7 body. So where is the internal improvement coming from? As for external improvement, with the ownership situation in flux for several years now, the Kings have done nothing to improve the team in recent years -- at least a new ownership group could get down to the business of helping the team get better. Having said all that, fear the Kings tonight. The arena/barn will be electric and the Kings have plenty of shooters (a fact the Clippers know firsthand). If the shots are falling, this game could get real scary real fast.

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics. The Kings have been scoring points in bunches since the All Star break -- but they give up lots of points as well. Only Charlotte has a worse defensive efficiency this season -- and not by much.
  • Scoreboard watching. The Nuggets and Grizzlies each tip off at 5 Pacific and those games should be over before the Kings and Clippers get started. If Denver wins and Memphis loses it renders this game meaningless; the Clippers will be locked into home court advantage in a first round series with the Grizzlies, win or lose against the Kings. In that case (which is a realistic possibility) Vinny Del Negro will probably pull the starters very early and give them the rest of the night off. Any other outcome and the Clippers have something to play for. If the Nuggets lose, the Clippers can jump to the third seed with a win; if the Grizzlies win, the Clipper must win to retain home court advantage. In the unlikely event that the Nuggets lose and the Grizzlies win, the outcome of the Kings game will determine whether the Clippers finish third or fifth in the conference -- they could go from home court advantage against the Warriors all the way down to opening the playoffs on the road in Memphis.
  • Tyreke out. Tyreke Evans took a hard fall under the basket in the Kings last game and has strained quadricep -- he's out of the finale.
  • Thornton in. The fact that Evans is out may not exactly be good news for the Clippers. Marcus Thornton will like start in place of Evans, and he's been an absolute Clipper-killer in his time with the Kings. He scored 25 in their win last month, making 6-10 three pointers. He made 6-9 against them in December. He is shooting 37 percent from deep on the season, but has made 14-24 against the Clippers. He also scored 29 against them in 2011.
  • Speaking of which.... Does this scenario seem a little familiar? Kings on the brink of moving out of Sacramento, Clippers in town playing in front of a rabid fan base urging the home team to victory? That 29 point Marcus Thornton game occurred February 28, 2011, when it seemed inevitable that Henry Samueli was going to purchase the Kings and move them to Anaheim. The Clippers game was designated "Here We Stay" night by our friends at Sactown Royalty and various other Kings sites. The Kings were pretty bad that year and they were also missing Tyreke in that game, but the fans carried the team to an emotional win -- and the Kings stayed in Sacramento. Deja vu, anyone?
  • Clippers three point record. Jamal Crawford is two three pointers away from the Clippers single season three point record. Crawford has 143 threes on the season -- Rasual Butler made 145 three seasons ago. Crawford has not been shooting the ball particularly well lately, but he certainly seemed to be going for the record last night, when seven of his eight field goal attempts came from beyond the arc.
  • Preseason prediction. Before the season began, I picked the Clippers to finish 55-27 this year. Which puts me in a win-win situation tonight. If the Clippers lose, my prediction is spot on. If they win, well, they win. (Hint: I'd actually prefer that they win.)
  • Healthy at the right time. My preview box up at the top of the page reads "None" under "Injuries" for the Clippers. That hasn't happened much this season. Actually, it hasn't happened at all, but that's a little misleading since there were a few games where Trey Thompson Thompkins was the only injury. Back in February, the Clippers played 11 games where Thompson was the only player unavailable due to injury. However, even then Paul had just come back from an injury and was rounding back into game form, and Bledsoe was playing with a sore calf for many of those games. It's hard to know if Billups is fully healthy at this point, but the rest of the roster is certainly as healthy as it has been all season. That's exactly what you want heading into the postseason.
  • The Chauncey Dilemma. Having Billups back could be a blessing or a curse for the Clippers. Obviously he has a wealth of playoff experience, more than anyone else on the team. Billups has played 140 career playoff games and is a Finals MVP; Lamar Odom has played 102 career playoff games, and no one else comes close. And he's been an NBA All Star as recently as 2010. But there's no denying that the Clippers best basketball this season has occurred without Billups. The simple fact that they've played 60 games without him means that those rotations, with Willie Green in the starting lineup, are much more familiar. Moreover, while it's reasonable to say that Billups is an upgrade over Green, it's far from clear that he should be taking minutes away from Eric Bledsoe or Jamal Crawford. It's pretty easy to argue that a three guard rotation of Paul, Crawford and Bledsoe would give the Clippers their best chance of winning in any given game -- but this is Chauncey Billups, and it's not clear that Vinny Del Negro is going to bench him in favor of those other guys. In fact, it is pretty clear that Billups would not be happy if that were to happen, and that he's not going to defer a lot when he is on the floor. We've said all along, the incredible depth the Clippers have presents the team with a first world problem of how best to use it all: unfortunately, injuries during the season have kept them from fully figuring it out, and now the postseason is here.
  • Three point shooting. The Kings outscored the Clippers 38-18 in the fourth quarter of the last meeting. They made 5-8 three pointers in the fourth and 14-28 in the game. Toney Douglas -- a throw in in the trade that sent Thomas Robinson to Houston -- scored 17 points in the fourth quarter of that one, and Douglas and Thornton made nine three pointers between them. There's one way the Clippers lose this game tonight -- see if you can guess what it is.
  • Chris Paul in the post. Chris Paul likes to play in the post and he's good at it. It's not often that he has a size advantage there, but he will tonight against Isaiah Thomas. Only problem is, the Clippers went to this matchup repeatedly in the last game and it didn't work. Paul finished 2-10 and turned the ball over seven times in one of his worst games of the season if not his career. Certainly he was having a bad game, which happens, but I also got the impression that the Clippers' insistence on posting Paul got out of hand, and threw the team's rhythm off. I'm all for going at specific matchups -- but you can't forget who you are in the process. It might be wise to be a little less insistent tonight.
  • Connections. Travis Outlaw is still in the NBA! Who knew? Outlaw was briefly a Clipper in 2010 and he was signed by the Kings after being amnestied by the Nets -- he's actually played 42 minutes in the last two games for some reason that escapes me. Matt Barnes played high school basketball and football at Del Campo High in Sacramento. DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson and Eric Bledsoe were college teammates for one season in Kentucky before becoming NBA first round draft picks in the 2010 draft. James Johnson and Chris Paul are two of the seven current NBA players who went to Wake Forest. Blake Griffin and Cole Aldrich were Big 12 adversaries for two seasons in college when Griffin was a Sooner and Aldrich a Jayhawk. Clipper head coach Vinny Del Negro was originally a second round pick of the Kings in 1988 and played two seasons in Sacramento. Finally, does anyone know if Marcus Thornton is related to former Clipper Al Thornton? At one point I thought they were cousins, but basketball-reference doesn't mention it.
  • Get the Kings perspective at Sactown Royalty.
  • Lyrical reference:

    King of the Road -- Roger Miller

    Trailers for sale or rent
    Rooms to let fifty cents
    No phone no pool no pets
    I ain't got no cigarettes
    Ah but, two hours of pushing broom
    Buys a eight by twelve four bit room
    I'm a man of means by no means
    King of the road

    When I was a kid -- I'm talking a little kid, before my older brother had any Jethro Tull albums for me to listen to, before my older sister got into Elton John, maybe even before I had my beloved Monkees albums -- there weren't a lot of music options in the house. My parents didn't exactly have an extensive record collection -- some classical, the West Side Story soundtrack (which I know by heart) and not a lot else. But they did have Roger Miller's Greatest Hits, and I loved that old piece of vinyl. King of the Road is of course the definitive Roger Miller tune, but there are plenty of other great ones. Also -- how great is that YouTube of ol' Roger? You might also be interested in REM's cover (in which a seemingly tone-deaf Michael Stipe is either drunk or just tired of performing) and the Proclaimers excellent cover (which presents the incongruous image of an American hobo with a Scottish brogue -- no paits, pooshing broom, etc.)