Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro is a firm believer that there are “no easy games” in the NBA. He says it almost dutifully when asked if his team plays up or down to respective opponents, which was a question that came up once again after the Clippers lost five days ago to the woefully undermanned New Orleans Hornets.
In three games this season the Clippers are 1-2 against teams that enter the matchup with a record under .500. Their lone win, though, came Wednesday against Minnesota, proof that Del Negro’s team may be heeding his message.
On Saturday night, the Clippers (9-6) take on the 4-11 Sacramento Kings at Staples Center. It’s the third consecutive home game for the Clippers, third in a row against a sub-.500 team and third straight against an opponent coming in on the second night of a back-to-back.
When asked about the matchup, Del Negro said, “We’re just trying to get our chemistry back, including Chauncey [Billups], and try to get our energy back. There are no easy games. We’ve got to come to play [Saturday], execute and go from there.”
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LAST TIME OUT
Clippers 101, Timberwolves 95: The Clippers snapped a four-game losing streak by taking over the final 5 minutes of Wednesday’s game at Staples Center. Chris Paul scored eight points down the stretch, including six free throws, as part of an extended 17-10 run. Paul finished with 23 points and 11 assists for his sixth double-double of the season. The game also marked the return of Billups, who had been out since Feb. 6 with a torn left Achilles. Billups scored seven points, all in the first quarter, and added seven assists.
“[It was] a great win for us in terms of getting some of our energy back and working Chauncey into the lineup,” Del Negro said. “I thought everybody contributed. Our bench was better. Blake [Griffin] made some plays when we had to have them, and everyone contributed which was great.”
Griffin had 18 points, six rebounds and three assists a game after scoring a career-low four points on 1-for-9 shooting. The Timberwolves were led by All-Star Kevin Love’s 19 points and 12 rebounds, but the Clippers held Minnesota to 37.8% shooting for the night..
Pacers 97, Kings 92: David West scored a season-high 31 points with 11 rebounds and the visiting Pacers sent the Kings away Friday with their eighth loss in their last 10 games. DeMarcus Cousins had 19 points and 16 rebounds for Sacramento, including going 9-of-10 from the foul line. Shooting guard Marcus Thornton missed a game-tying 3-point attempt with 4 seconds remaining after the Kings fought back from a nine-point deficit and George Hill closed it out with a pair of free throws.
DeAndre Jordan vs. DeMarcus Cousins. While the Kings offense may be geared towards penetration and their guards making plays in transition, DeMarcus Cousins is arguably the team’s most talented player. Cousins is averaging just 11.0 points in seven games versus the Clippers, his second lowest scoring average against an opponent. Still, according to center DeAndre Jordan, defending Cousins will be a priority for the Clippers defensively.
“DeMarcus is playing extremely well,” Jordan said. “He’s a skilled player. He can play inside-out and can shoot the three-ball. We’ve really got to lock into him.”
In the past, Blake Griffin and Cousins have matched up at times, but on Saturday it will likely be Jordan’s responsibility to curtail the enigmatic big man. Jordan is coming off a 15-points, six-rebound effort against Minnesota, including an impressive stretch over the final few minutes where he grabbed two offensive rebounds that led directly to points, blocked a runner by Luke Ridnour, and converted a 3-point play.
In his last 17 minutes of fourth-quarter play, Jordan is shooting 5-of-6 from the field and 6-of-9 from the free throw line with 16 points and seven rebounds.
TWO THINGS TO WATCH
Transition game. The Clippers have struggled to get easy points in recent days. After leading the league in fast-break points for more than three weeks, they have dipped to number three at 16.9 per game. But it appeared they got back on track against Minnesota. Not only were the Clippers able to convert turnovers into points, but they also managed to find early offense for Griffin on a pair of fourth-quarter trips and finished the game with 22 fast-break points in 12 opportunities.
As for the Kings, Eric Bledsoe said it will be important to keep guards like Tyreke Evans and Marcus Thornton out of the lane and Del Negro suggested that limiting Evans in transition would be a factor.
“Tyreke is really good off the dribble; we’ve got to do a good job loading up against that,” Del Negro said. “All of their guards, they’ve got some guys that can really get to the basket. Our transition defense has to be smart and has to be effective and has to load up very well. If we can take the easy ones away then I like when we can get in the half court and get setup.”
Turnovers. Despite their 4-11 record, the Kings are among the top third of the league in turnovers per game (14.5). The Clippers ability to force turnovers may push that higher, despite the fact that as Crawford says, the Kings are “predicated on their guards.”
On offense, the Clippers committed a season-low 10 turnovers against the Timberwolves and must limit mistakes if they want to prevent Sacramento from getting into their running game. On Friday the Pacers had just nine turnovers and the Kings managed eight points on the break.
The Kings are 0-5 on the road this season… The Clippers swept the season series last year with the Kings (3-0), marking the third time in the 42-year history of the between the two teams… Cousins referred to Griffin as an “actor” after a game last season. To which Griffin responded by scoring 27 points with 14 rebounds in the season finale between the two teams… Del Negro was originally drafted by the Kings with the 29th overall pick in the 1988 Draft… The Clippers bench is averaging 38.9 points per game (6th in the NBA)… The Clippers are 7-0 when holding opponents to 43% shooting or worse.