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Looking to Bounce Back, Clippers Head to Sacramento

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The Clippers carry their longest losing streak of the season north to Sacramento, where they’ll look to get back on track.

NBA: Preseason-Los Angeles Clippers at Sacramento Kings Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

The Backstory:

Another game, another team that hates the Clippers. This is just how it’s been for the last few years, right? The relationship between the Kings and the Clippers is certainly heated. DeMarcus Cousins’ temper has been the main driving factor behind the tension, which isn’t much of a surprise.

What might be more surprising is how competitive this match-up has been in recent years. Even as the Kings have sputtered in recent years, they’ve played the Clippers well. In four meetings last season, the Clippers won the series 3-1, but all four match-ups were hard-fought (a 10-point Clippers win was the largest margin). The Kings also took a game off of the Clippers in 2014-15, and while the Clippers swept the series in 2013-14, two of those victories were a one-point win and an overtime game.

The Clippers are favored by 7 points in tonight’s meeting. While LAC has been mostly dominant in the early-going this year, the history between these two teams suggests that a close game might be incredibly likely.

The Big Picture:

Okay, so the Clippers lost another game this week. Now, they’re 10-2, which is obviously great. It hurts to lose games when there’s a narrow lead for first place to be protected, and now the Clippers are one of four two-loss teams left in the NBA. It’s still a good place to be, but having that buffer in the loss column was nice.

Notably, the Clippers are 1-2 in close games this year, but 9-0 in not-so-close games. If the team keeps on blowout out most of their opponents and fighting close battles on nights when things aren’t going their way, they’ll win a lot of games this year. Close basketball games in the NBA are normally coin flips because they are based on the randomness of just a few late possessions—so if all of your bad games are coin flips, and all of your good games are big wins, you’re gonna have a pretty good time. If the Clippers keep up the pace of winning three-fourths of their games easily, and the other fourth are coin-toss close games, they’ll finish the season with 70 wins.

Now, I don’t think that’ll happen—but the fact that they’re off to that kind of start is nothing but good news.

The Antagonist:

Well, I know this is going to shock a lot of readers, but the Kings are dysfunctional. Rudy Gay reportedly wants to be traded, and Omri Casspi’s future with the team is up in the air under new coach Dave Joerger. Point Guard Darren Collison is back with the team after an early-season suspension for domestic violence, and Sacramento’s polarizing superstar is as polarizing as ever.

DeMarcus Cousins is averaging 26.6 points per game, and Rudy Gay is averaging 21.3. Behind them, the Kings’ offense is sputtering, with only Collison averaging double-digit points behind the two stars.

Notes:

  • Good (against good): The Clippers’ 10-0 record isn’t just the best mark in the league—it hasn’t come against easy opponents. According to ESPN’s relative percentage index, the Clippers have played the toughest schedule of any NBA team so far. Their only losses are to likely playoff teams—Oklahoma City and Memphis—and they’ve only played three of twelve games against likely lottery teams—Phoenix, Brooklyn, and Minnesota.
  • No Rest for the Weary: Clippers PR notes that LAC has now played 11 games in 18 days. They won’t get consecutive days off until December, and even then the schedule stays tough. The Clippers’ schedule gives them a game every 1.85 days in 2016 and a game every 2.22 days in 2017. As the season wears on, the team will finally get off days to rest, get healthy, and practice.
  • Settin’ Records: Not only is 10-2 the Clippers’ best 12-game start to a season ever, but Chris Paul is the first player since 1983-84 to have 100 points and 37 steals through his first 12 games with just 21 turnovers. The Clippers +14.9 point differential is the 8th-best 12-game start in NBA history.
  • Lock Up: The Clippers have the best defensive rating in the NBA according to basketball-reference.com, but Clippers PR also notes that they are allowing remarkably low totals in points per game allowed (93.8) and FG% allowed (41.5%).
  • Crawford on the All-Time Scoring List: Jamal Crawford now sits at 86th on the NBA’s all-time scoring list with 17,214 points. He’ll pass Jeff Malone for 85th soon enough, but he still has 118 points to go before he climbs that next rung. Crawford could pass Buffalo Braves legend World B. Free for 66th on the All-Time scoring list later this season.
  • Franchise-Best Start: The Clippers’ current record through 12 games is 10-2, their best ever. Twice the franchise has enjoyed 9-3 starts to the season, in 2005-06 and 1074-75. In the former case, the team dropped their 13th game to fall to 9-4. In the latter, the 1975 Buffalo Braves won their 13th game in the midst of an 11-game winning streak. They’d end their run with an impressive 15-3 record through 18 games. It’ll be fun to watch this current Clippers team aim for that mark.
  • Future Clippers? It’s no secret that the Kings are dysfunctional, and if you’ve been following along on Twitter for the last year, you’ll know that I’ve been teasing Sactown Royalty bloggers about a Rudy Gay trade to the Clippers for a year now. It’s unlikely and I’m not even sure if it’s something I want, but Gay is a veteran SF on an expiring deal who wants out, and Doc Rivers traded for a short-term wing upgrade at the trade deadline last year. If Omri Casspi wants out, his 40% shooting from beyond the arc wouldn’t hurt either.
  • Missing WeJo: Among lineups with at least 75 minutes played this season, the Clippers’ healthy bench unit (Raymond Felton, Jamal Crawford, Austin Rivers, Wesley Johnson, and Marreese Speights) ranks 5th in the NBA in net rating (+14.6). Since Johnson injured his left heel, Brandon Bass has replaced him in the lineup. That same bench unit, with Bass replacing Johnson, has an abysmal -24.1 net rating in 44 minutes. Hurry back, Wesley.
  • Shooters: Twelve games into the season, and the supporting cast still hasn’t found the range for the Clippers. Jamal Crawford (32.6%), Marreese Speights (31.7%), Wesley Johnson (28.6%), and Austin Rivers (20%) are all well below their expected averages from deep. Once they get going, an already-potent Clippers bench could put together some incredible runs.
  • Connections (from Clippers PR): Current King Matt Barnes played for the Clippers over a decade ago, but more memorably as arguable the most successful starting SF of the Chris Paul era, before he was traded for Lance Stephenson. Darren Collison, who is coming off of the bench at PG for the Kings, was the Clippers’ back-up point guard for one successful season before earning a bigger contract in Sacramento. Collison is playing with his former UCLA teammate Arron Afflalo, and they’ll play against their former UCLA teammate Luc Richard Mbah a Moute tonight.
  • Back by popular demand: Check out the opposing perspective at Sactown Royalty. Their game preview wasn’t up at the time that this preview was written, but if it’s been published in the meantime it’ll be front and center on their front page, linked above. If not, you can check out their other great coverage.