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Game Preview: Clippers Look To End Road Trip With a Win in Sacramento

A rare game against a team below L.A. in the standings.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Atlanta Hawks Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Big Picture:

The Clippers are in a rough spot. Their starting point guard, Patrick Beverley, will miss the rest of the season after knee surgery earlier this week, and their starting shooting guard and best passer, Milos Teodosic, remains out indefinitely with a tricky foot injury that he suffered in the team’s second game of the season. That has forced backup guards Austin Rivers and Lou Williams, who are both capable rotation players, into large roles that have left them overworked and inefficient. Rookie guards Jawun Evans and Sindarius Thornwell have both performed admirably when pressed into duty, but it’s never a good sign when a team is forced to use two second-round guards.

Outside of their shaky guard core, the Clippers are relatively solid. Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are both All-NBA talents, and even though Danilo Gallinari struggled before going down with an injury of his own, Wesley Johnson has really stepped up this season, averaging 8 points, 4 rebounds, an assist, a steal, and a block while shooting 39% from deep. They’ve also gotten various contributions from frontcourt depth players like Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell, and Willie Reed—the kind of sparks the team could sorely use at the guard positions.

After snapping a 9-game losing streak Wednesday night in Atlanta, the Clippers are looking to finally right the ship and get back into the playoff race. With Beverley done for the season, it’s hard to say definitively whether or not they have the talent to make that kind of push in the Western Conference this season, and it will largely depend on when Teodosic and Gallinari return, and how healthy the Clippers are able to remain over the course of the season. Still, tonight is the second in a 5-game stretch against the Hawks, Kings, Lakers, Jazz, and Mavericks—all teams that join the Clippers in the basement of the NBA’s standings. If they can manage to muster enough offense without Gallinari to win these games, they could be in the conversation for a playoff spot when he returns in a week or so. If they drop several of the easiest games of the season and slide further in the standings, they may dig a hole that they are unable to get out of.

The Antagonist:

The Kings are bad, and that’s okay. This is a decidedly better place to be than the place where the Clippers are, which is being bad and having it not be okay. Sacramento features the most balanced rotation and scoring of any NBA team I can remember, with no player coming close to 30 minutes a night and Zach Randolph leading the team in scoring at 12.9 points per game. It would be revolutionary if it was working, but the Kings’ horrific ratings on both ends of the floor don’t point in that direction.

Still, Sacramento expected to be bad this season. It’s part of #TheProcess. They brought in veteran leaders like George Hill, Zach Randolph, Garrett Temple, and Vince Carter to surround an overflow of young talent: De’Aaron Fox (20 years old), Willie Cauley-Stein (24), Bogdan Bogdanovic (25), Buddy Hield (24), Justin Jackson (22), Skal Labissiere (21), Frank Mason III (23), and Malachi Richardson (22) all feature in the Kings’ rotation. They also own their own first round pick this season, so it’s a development year for the team to figure out what they have with this crop of prospects.

So far this season, the Kings have managed a 5-13 record, but basketball-reference actually has their “expected” win-loss at 3-15 (compared to the Clippers, who they’d expect to be at 8-9). When you’re 5-13 and the numbers say that you aren’t as good as your record, it’s a sign that you’re in for a long season. Fortunately for the Kings, that just means more minutes for their young guys (plus potential assets if they flip their veterans at the trade deadline), and a better draft pick next June.