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Game Preview: Clippers and Kings Battle for Positioning in Crowded Western Conference

Pacific Division rivals meet in a Sunday matinee match-up.

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Los Angeles Clippers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Game Information:

Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, California

When: 12:30 p.m.

How You Can Watch: FSPT

How You Can Listen: AM 570 LA Sports Radio

Projected Starting Lineups:

LA Clippers: Avery Bradley, Tobias Harris, Marcin Gortat, Patrick Beverley, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

Sacramento Kings: Iman Shumpert, Nemanja Bjelica, Willie Cauley-Stein, Buddy Hield, De’Aaron Fox


Clippers: Luc Mbah a Moute (Sore left knee) - OUT; Danilo Gallinari (Low back spasms) - OUT

Kings: No injuries to report.

The Big Picture:

The Los Angeles Clippers (27-22) host the Sacramento Kings (25-24) Sunday afternoon in the deep and wild race to the Western Conference playoffs. Both contenders barely eked out road wins on Friday, with Sacramento squeezing by the Memphis Grizzlies 99-96 and the Clippers topping the Chicago Bulls 106-101.

The Clippers have won the last seven battles with their Northern California rivals, including two wins so far this season. The last time the two franchises met was on December 26, 2018. The Clippers won that contest 127-118 behind double-digit scoring from all starters, and sublime performances from Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell, who combined for 46 points.

The Antagonist:

Sacramento visits Los Angeles on the tail end of a six-game road trip. The Kings improved to 2-3 for the stretch with Friday’s win over Memphis, and are currently tied with the Minnesota Timberwolves for ninth place in the Western Conference, two and a half games behind the Clippers and the San Antonio Spurs.

Offensively, the Kings have been solid. They are eighth in the league in both scoring and assists, averaging 113.1 points and 25.8 assists a night. The franchise brings a balanced offensive attack, with six players averaging double figures: Buddy Hield (20.3), De’Aaron Fox (17.5), Bogdan Bogdanovic (15.1) Willie Cauley-Stein (13.3) Marvin Bagley III (12.7) and Nemanja Bjelica (10.1). The Kings are 11th in the league in field goal percentage (46.6 percent) and 3rd in three-point shooting (38.7 percent).

Defensively, however, Sacramento has struggled. They are allowing 114.9 points per game (26th in the league) and have a defensive rating of 111.5 (21st in the league).

Keys to the Game:

Control the Pace. Sacramento leads the NBA in fast break points (21.3), and ranks second in the league in pace (104.14). The Kings’ success in transition is largely attributable to second-year point guard De-Aaron Fox. Last time the Clippers and Kings battled, the speedy left-hander finished with an above-average 19 points, and along with Bogdanovic strung together a 19-0 run in the fourth quarter that nearly cost Los Angeles the win. Controlling game pace and keeping Fox from running loose on the open floor is key to a Clipper win.

All-Star Play from Tobias. Tobias Harris has scored 27 points or more in four of his last five games. With Danilo Gallinari out with back spasms again Sunday, the Clippers will need another big game from Tobias to top the Kings.

Defense Must Show Up. The Clippers are currently below average defensively, allowing 113.4 points per game (23rd in the league). However, the franchise appears to be on an uptick. Over the course of their recent four-game road swing, the Clippers have allowed only 102.6 points per 100 possessions and impressively held both the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat to under 100 points. They have the potential to be a defensive juggernaut, but struggle with consistency over four frames.

Rebound Rebound Rebound. The Clippers are 20-5 this season when they snatch more rebounds than their opponent and 11-2 when they’ve secured 50+ rebounds. The Kings are averaging just one rebound less than the Clippers per game this season, 44.5 to 45.4. The team that controls the boards likely wins this contest.

Veteran Back Court Stepping Up. After slow starts to the season, Patrick Beverley and Avery Bradley have started to heat up, much to the delight of fans. The Clippers are a much stronger team when the veteran guards are contributing.

The trash-talking, spirit-raising Beverley has converted 30 of his last 71 attempts (42.3 percent) from three-point range over his last 21 games, a welcomed offensive boon to the franchise. In last Sunday’s win at San Antonio, Beverley logged an impressive 18 points, 12 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals and one block. No player 6’1” or shorter has matched Beverley’s single-game stat line in over 25 seasons.

Over his last five games, the much-maligned Bradley has averaged 12.3 points on 42.9 percent shooting from beyond the arc in addition to 4.0 rebounds and 2.2 assists. Fans are cautiously optimistic his game play will continue to improve.

Bench Excellence. The Clippers’ reserves lead the NBA with 51.1 points per game this season, on pace for the highest scoring average by a reserve unit in over 30 seasons. Without Gallinari’s offense, the bench has to come up big for the Clippers to log a third consecutive win Sunday.

Lou Williams is, of course, the heart and soul of the Clippers’ second unit. Williams currently leads the NBA in bench scoring, averaging 18.8 points per game. Sweet Lou is the Clippers’ undisputed closer, ranking second in the league (to probable league MVP James Harden) with 315 fourth quarter points this season, and ranks fourth with 7.5 fourth quarter points per game. Williams led the NBA in fourth quarter scoring (597 points, 7.9 points per game) last season. Notably, Lou logged his first career triple-double in Friday’s win at Chicago. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he’s the second player in NBA history (Detlef Schrempf in 1992-93) with a 30+ point triple-double off the bench. Quite the accomplishment.

Montrezl Harrell is similarly essential to the success of the Clippers’ bench, bringing consistent offensive output and boundless energy. Harrell scored 14 points in the fourth quarter of last Wednesday’s road win over the Heat, tying his most points in any career fourth quarter and his second-most points in any career frame. He ranks fourth in the league in bench scoring, averaging 15.5 points per game along with 6.8 rebounds.

Rookie guard Jerome Robinson and two-way forward Johnathan Motley have contributed meaningfully in recent outings. In each of the last two games, Robinson has matched his career-highs in points (8) and field goals (3) and set career-highs in minutes. Over his last five games, Robinson has tallied 23 points on 50 percent shooting from the field and 45.5 percent shooting from three-point range. Motley has averaged 7.0 points and 3.8 rebounds, while shooting 48.3 percent from the field in 12 minutes over his last five games. Both these players add to the Clippers’ already deep arsenal of weapons.

Interested in the Kings’ perspective on this match up? Find it over at Sactown Royalty.