They say familiarity breeds contempt, and that statement almost feels like a microcosm of the Los Angeles Clippers’ season so far. The way their schedule has fallen into place has meant they’ve come up against many of the same teams several times already, and a number of those games feel like they’ve come in such quick succession – though that has not benefited this squad whatsoever.
Of the nine teams that they have faced more than once this campaign, the only franchise they are yet to taste defeat against is the Timberwolves – boasting a 3-0 record over Patrick Beverley and his new running mates. In the rest of those series, they have managed to pick up at least one win over all of their opponents bar two. That is the high-flying Warriors and their next opponents in the Sacramento Kings.
When: Wednesday, December 22 at 7 p.m. PT
Where: Golden 1 Center, Sacramento, California
How to watch/listen: Bally Sports SoCal, AM 570 ESPN
Opposing perspective: Sactown Royalty
Projected Starting Lineups
Clippers: Reggie Jackson, Luke Kennard, Paul George, Terance Mann, Ivica Zubac
Kings: Tyrese Haliburton, Buddy Hield, Harrison Barnes, Chimezie Metu, Tristan Thompson
Clippers: Isaiah Hartenstein — GAME TIME; Marcus Morris Sr., Kawhi Leonard, Jason Preston — OUT
Kings: Richuan Holmes — GAME TIME; Davion Mitchell, De’Aaron Fox, Alex Len, Marvin Bagley III, Terence Davis, Louis King, Neemias Queta — OUT
On paper, the Kings shouldn’t ever really be too much of a problem for the Clippers. They sit 11th in the Western Conference with a 13-19 record, they rank 25th in the league for net rating at -3.2, and they have the second worst defensive rating in the entire NBA this season at 112.8. However, stylistically they’ve been something of a matchup nightmare.
Alvin Gentry’s team have the sixth best percentage on points in the paint at 45.3%, they are also sixth in terms of pace at 100.27 and they boast the seventh best offensive rebounding percentage in the league at 28.7%. If that wasn’t enough, they also shoot the second most free throws in the league with 24.2 attempts per game.
Those latter attributes will be particularly interesting to Ty Lue and his staff, as they’ve looked to implement a similar style among their guys this year – albeit with a much stronger emphasis on being able to kick the ball out and get shooters open. While outside shooting isn’t one of the Kings strong points, they are one of the most adept teams in the league at pushing the ball up the floor, getting into the paint and drawing fouls.
Protecting the paint has been a problem for the Clippers throughout this season too. While their defensive rating remains one of the best in the NBA, they sit 25th in terms of defensive rebounding percentage at 71.5%, and they allow the second most points in the paint at 49.1 per game – ironically only edged out by the Kings themselves with an especially poor 53.1 points allowed each time they take to the floor. Sacramento are also similarly bad on their own glass with a 29th-placed 69.5%.
That last stat should really give this team some encouragement to go and eat in the paint on Wednesday night, and they now have the muscle memory of two games to work with. Will that motivate the Clippers to do just that? Ivica Zubac spoke angrily about his team’s effort on the glass after the latest loss to the Spurs: “It was embarrassing. I mean rebounding is a team job. Got to rebound if you want to win games. I thought tonight we did a terrible job.”
"It was embarrassing. I mean rebounding is a team job. Got to rebound if you want to win games. I thought tonight we did a terrible job [of team rebounding]."— Tomer Azarly (@TomerAzarly) December 21, 2021
Ivica Zubac on tonight's Clippers loss. pic.twitter.com/XrSMaVAKVY
Should Zu and co be more confident of a better job this time out then? The Kings have seven health and safety protocol absentees which should aid the visitors. Yet, even if their injury report and below-par defence was to give the Clippers some motivation, the patchy shooting of this year’s guys means you never know what you’re going to get on any given night. Therefore, if they are going to stick to pushing the pace, getting to the paint and kicking it out to shooters, they have to do a good job of knocking those shots down. The return of Paul George will help that, though the absence of Marcus Morris is a big blow, so they’ll need big shooting displays from the likes of Reggie Jackson and Nicolas Batum to cover that loss.
This squad has the chance to prevent their season series against the Kings being a losing one. A losing record against the Kings has been a bad omen based on the records from the previous three seasons, with winning records in the memorable 2018-19 and 2020-21, but a losing record in the highly forgettable 2019-20 campaign.
Ultimately, the Kings aren’t the kind of team that should be causing contenders problems on a nightly basis, let alone when they’re short-handed. The Clippers need to put a marker down if they want to prove they’re that and not just pretenders this year.
This post will serve as the game thread. Enjoy the game, and comment below.