The LA Clippers, who entered the night 8th place in the Western Conference, have been aggressively looking to stay in the postseason hunt. It remains tight in the West, with only 5 games separating 3rd and 8th place (and just 5 games separating 7th and 11th place). Every matchup going forward has become crucial for the Clippers, especially one like tonight’s against their conference and division opponents, the Sacramento Kings. And of the Clippers’ 15 games in March, only 5 take place on the road, with just 6 of those 15 matchups against Western Conference teams, making a game like tonight’s even more important.
The Sacramento Kings, who entered tonight’s game 9th place in the West, are eager to make the playoffs. It has been 12 years since the Kings last made the playoffs back in 2006, the longest active postseason drought in the NBA. Their young core - featuring De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Marvin Bagley III, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and Willie Cauley-Stein - hasn’t been together long enough to have endured much of the team’s postseason woes, but will be absolutely essential in trying to get them there. While the Kings have surpassed expectations and gave themselves some great opportunities to advance their postseason aspirations, tonight, they fell short.
In a game that featured 5 ties and 10 lead changes, the Clippers finished the night with 116 points and 7 players in double-digit scoring. Landry Shamet, a sharpshooter who was just 6-21 from beyond the arc in his previous 4 games, led the way tonight with 20 points and 4 rebounds on 50% shooting from the field and 50% shooting from three (5 of 10). Rounding out the collective double-figure scoring effort were Danilo Gallinari (19 points), Lou Williams (17 points), Montrezl Harrell (15 points), Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (15 points), Patrick Beverley (12 points) and Ivica Zubac (10 points).
Brief scoring bursts from the Kings aside, the Clippers won this game primarily by dictating the tempo the majority of the night. Pace was a major factor coming into the matchup, with the Kings leading the entire NBA in this category. But the Clippers remained aggressive in transition and in moving the ball downhill. Foul trouble became an issue early on for the Kings, who sent the Clippers to the free throw line 33 times tonight (with De’Aaron Fox tallying 2 costly fouls early in the 1st quarter).
The Clippers also out-rebounded the Kings 58-46, a point of emphasis entering the night. JaMychal Green pulled down 11 boards in just over 19 minutes of action, while Zubac grabbed 10 in just 18 minutes. And of the Clippers’ 58 rebounds, 16 came at the offensive end, something we’re not accustomed to seeing from this team.
For the Kings, who recently acquired Harrison Barnes to further bolster their postseason push, this was a tough loss. As a team, they shot just 28.6% from beyond the arc on 21 attempts. And Buddy Hield, who had underachieved in his previous 3 matchups with the Clippers this season, led the way for the Kings with 23 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 assists. As a result of the loss, the Kings are now 2.5 games out of 8th place in the West with just 20 remaining games on the season.
For the Clippers, they’ll get just a day of rest before playing back-to-back home games against the New York Knicks and the Los Angeles Lakers. Coming away with a win tonight was huge for them, and they’re certainly not finished trying to climb the Western Conference standings.
Be sure to check out the Kings perspective over at Sactown Royalty.