When: 12:30 PM Pacific Time
Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
How to Watch: Prime Ticket, AM 570 Radio
Projected Starting Lineups:
Kings: De’Aaron Fox, George Hill, Garrett Temple, Zach Randolph, Willie Cauley-Stein
Clippers: Milos Teodosic, Lou Williams, Tyrone Wallace, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan
Kings: Georgios Papagiannis Out (Illness), Harry Giles Out (Knee Surgery), Frank Mason Out (Plantar Fascia)
Clippers: DeAndre Jordan Questionable (Left ankle sprain), Austin Rivers Out (Right ankle injury), Patrick Beverley Out (Knee Surgery), Danilo Gallinari Out (Torn Glute)
The Clippers have won three games in a row, and are now just a game under .500. Miraculously, the sit a mere game out of the 8th seed, and 1.5 back of 5th. With Danilo Gallinari and Austin Rivers hopefully returning within a couple weeks, the Clippers just need to keep everyone else healthy to make their final push for the playoffs after the All Star break. There are four teams within striking distance of the Clippers, and a collapse by any of them would get the Clippers into the postseason for the seventh year in a row. DeAndre Jordan is questionable for the game with a sprained ankle, but he tried to give it a go at the start of the 3rd quarter on Thursday, and tweeted out after the game that he was “fine”. Even if he misses this one, it should be the only absence before a quick return. And as fantastic as DJ is, center is the one position where the Clippers have real depth, with both Montrezl Harrell and Willie Reed perfectly capable of filling in as big minute players for a game or two. In other words, even with DJ out, the Clippers finally getting their record back to even is in real reach.
The Sacramento Kings are tied for the worst record in the Western Conference, and third worst in the entire NBA. They rely on a mix of inconsistent youth talent and underwhelming veterans, though George Hill played very well on Thursday. While De’Aaron Fox has shown quite a bit of skill and is certainly no bust, he also hasn’t done as well as Kings fans might have hoped: for much of this season, the Kings’ best point guard was unheralded 2nd round rookie Frank Mason Jr. Willie Cauley-Stein is a nice defender, but his offensive game hasn’t evolved much in two and a half NBA seasons, and there’s no real reason to think he’s the “center of the future” for the Kings franchise. With the trade deadline coming up in less than a month, expect veterans such as Hill, Zach Randolph, and Vince Carter to be in trade discussions for young players and draft picks. Fire sale season is approaching.
· Reaching .500: If the Clippers win against the Kings, they will be 21-21, reaching .500 for the first time since they were 5-5. That was back on November 7, and they have gone through about 15 different starting lineups since then. It would be quite an accomplishment for this Clippers team, as injury-stricken as it has been, to reach neutral ground just one game more than halfway through the season.
· Lou’s Hot Streak: After Lou’s 50 point explosion against the Warriors on Wednesday, he started out just as hot against the Kings, dropping 21 points in the first half. However, he cooled off considerably in the second half, scoring nine points and missing quite a few shots that have been dropping recently. He also had a couple bad turnovers, which he’s mostly been great about avoiding—he looked very tired. Even with Blake and Milos back, Lou is still incredibly important to the Clippers’ attack, and they need him to remain as effective as he has been all season. He’s scored 30 points in three games straight, tying a career high, and another 30 isn’t out of the question now that he has a day of rest. Hopefully he will be as magnificent as ever.
· Who Starts if DJ is Out: Montrezl Harrell has received the bulk of the backup center minutes for much of the season now, and he’s the one who replaced Jordan on Thursday. Therefore, he will presumably start for DJ if he does in fact sit out. However, if Harrell struggles at all with some of the Kings’ size, don’t be surprised if Reed ends up getting just as many if not more minutes than Montrezl.
Check out the Kings’ perspective on fantastic blog Sactown Royalty. The game thread will be up, as usual, shortly before game time. Go Clippers!