The Clippers are in the midst of their best stretch of the season. They have won four games in a row, the last two by convincing margins, and get a chance to keep the momentum going against a significantly overmatched opponent.
When the Clippers faced off against Sacramento last week, the Kings were able to keep things competitive for a half before the Clippers completely wrecked them in the third quarter. That rout doesn’t feel like a fluke: LA has the best offensive rating in the league (per Cleaning the Glass), and Sacramento has the worst defensive rating. Combine those two, and it’s no wonder that the Clippers had an explosive offensive performance in the first matchup.
When: Wednesday, Jan. 20 at 7 p.m. PT
Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
How to watch/listen: Fox Sports Prime Ticket, AM 570 Radio
Projected Starting Lineups:
Clippers: Patrick Beverley, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Nicolas Batum, Serge Ibaka
Kings: De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Harrison Barnes, Marvin Bagley III, Richaun Holmes
Clippers: Lou Williams (left hip) — QUESTIONABLE; Jay Scrubb (foot surgery) — OUT
Kings: Marvin Bagley (wrist) — PROBABLE; Hassan Whiteside (hip) — QUESTIONABLE; DaQuan Jeffries (ankle), Jahmi’us Ramsey (groin) — OUT
With their opponent unlikely to provide meaningful resistance (though the second game is always harder to win than the first), the Clippers have their own concerns to work through. Chief among them is their defensive effort. The offense has carried the team for much of the season, though the defensive intensity has picked up as of late. Head coach Ty Lue said before practice Tuesday that the Clippers have the tools on defense, but they need to apply them consistently.
“Just keep building on the habits we have been able to do the last three games,” Lue said. “Play the pick and roll two-on-two, cut down on our over-helps on the defensive end and also closing out. We got a lot of short close outs and teams still taking the threes even though we were there to contest. They were still taking them and making them. Last few games we’ve done a better job of getting to our guys, running them off the 3-point line and making them take contested twos. That is how we want to play our defense. Last three games, just something to continue to keep building off of and get better.”
Over the past three games, the Clippers are sixth in opposing 3-point attempts and fifth in opposing 3-point percentage. For the season, the Clippers are 17th and 13th in those categories, respectively, so it’s a sizable jump.
One way the Clippers can go about cutting down 3-point attempts is by switching on defense, which happens when the team goes small. Lue said that a point of emphasis in practice Tuesday was their small lineup, just as it was last week. Given that those are the only two practices the Clippers have had in the calendar year, and small lineups have been a priority in both, it’s safe to say that the Clippers are serious about that option, despite solid play from both their centers to start the season.
Going small should be fairly easy against the Kings, given that they start a center who doesn’t operate in the post in Richaun Holmes and have been bringing Chimezie Metu, a stretch big, off the bench in place of the injured Hassan Whiteside.
Another area to keep an eye on in this game is transition. The Clippers got caught up in the Kings’ pace early in their last matchup before slowing things down in the second half. Sacramento likes to get up and down by forcing turnovers and scoring in early offense, and the Clippers are at their best when they make their opponents use the whole clock.
What are you looking forward to in this rematch between the Clippers and the Kings? Enjoy the game, and comment below!