LOS ANGELES – The Clippers winning streak has lasted long enough that they are beginning to see repeat visitors to Staples Center.
Two nights after walloping the New Orleans Hornets, the last team to defeat the Clippers (19-6) almost a month ago, they face off with the Sacramento Kings, a team that served as victim No. 2 on their 11-game stretch of perfection.
“We’re just playing the right way right now. That’s why we’re winning a lot of games,” DeAndre Jordan said at Friday’s shoot-around. “We’re not too focused on the streak. We’re just focused on playing the way we’re capable of playing and sticking to our defensive principles.”
The Kings (8-17) enter Staples Center winners of four of their last nine since losing, 116-81, in L.A. on Dec. 1. For the Clippers, seeking a franchise-record 12th win in a row, Friday night will be about maintaining a consistent frame of mind, something that Chris Paul has often alluded to.
“We go into every game expecting to win,” Paul said. “I don’t care where we’re playing, who we’re playing against, and that’s one of the biggest mentalities that have changed around here. You can see with our guys even when we talk about it before we run on the court. We’re fortunate enough to be in a situation where when we go into games every night, it’s not necessarily about the other team. It’s about what we do.
“At some point, hopefully not, we’re probably going to lose again, but we’ve got to keep this same even keel and same intensity.”
Kings guard Tyreke Evans, who has missed the last two games, is questionable for Friday’s contest with a sore left knee, according to the Sacramento Bee.
LAST TIME OUT
Clippers 93, Hornets 77: Paul, who finished with 10 points and 12 assists, became the third youngest in history to tally 5,000 assists for his career, and the Clippers matched the franchise record for consecutive victories (11 in a row). After the Hornets scored the opening basket of the game, a wide-open dunk by Robin Lopez, the Clippers quickly tied it on a reverse layup by Caron Butler. Nine seconds later, a layup by Jordan gave the Clippers a lead they would never relinquish.
“I thought we got off to a good start tonight,” Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said. “We caught them on a back-to-back. Overall, I thought we did a nice job talking on our defensive rotations and getting out to their shooters. We controlled that as much as possible.”
The Clippers outshot the Hornets 50.0% to 38.7% and New Orleans, which made 15 3-pointers in an earlier victory at Staples Center, was just 2-for-19 from distance. Blake Griffin scored a team-high 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting and was one of five players who scored in double-figures for L.A. Jamal Crawford had 17 points and Matt Barnes 11 off the bench.
Kings 131, Warriors 127: The score of Wednesday’s shootout between the Kings and Warriors looks very much like it must have included multiple overtimes. However, it’s not a misprint: the two teams combined for 258 points in regulation, the most since the Suns and Knicks totaled 271 in Nov. 2010. Sacramento snapped a five-game losing streak by getting double-figure scoring nights from seven players, including a team-high 24 from DeMarcus Cousins and 23 from Aaron Brooks. They shot 11-for-19 from 3-point range and converted 34 of their 42 free throws. Still, the Kings gave up a 15-point deficit in the final quarter before a pair of 3-pointers by Brooks helped seal it down the stretch.
The Bench Backcourts. Sacramento’s bench has been inconsistent at best, particularly with the backup point guard spot mysteriously revolving between Isaiah Thomas and Jimmer Fredette. Both second-year men played on Wednesday, combining for 26 points in 33 minutes. It was the most effective combined stretch of the season for the two guards and paired with high-scoring swingman Marcus Thornton they give Sacramento a potentially dangerous in the backcourt.
The success of the Clippers bench has been well documented. Griffin and Paul have both referred to the unit as essentially another “wave” of starters as opposed to a true bench. They average 41.9 points per game, second in the league. Crawford and Eric Bledsoe, the backcourt duo which will be charged with matching Thomas and/or Fredette and Thornton, score 62.1% of the Clippers points off the bench (26 of their 41.9). Both played sensational in the previous meeting with the Kings with Crawford tallying 17 points and six assists and Bledsoe going for 14 points, four assists and four steals.
TWO THINGS TO WATCH
The first quarter. In their Dec. 1 meeting, the Clippers jumped out to a 28-17 start. Del Negro has maintained that the starters getting L.A. off to a momentous start can set the tone for the entire game, something that Paul reiterated Wednesday night.
“We have to get off to a good start,” Paul said. “That’s what we’ve been doing a lot lately, getting off to good starts. Not putting so much pressure on the bench. Our bench is amazing, but we shouldn’t put them in a situation where they have to bail us out every night.”
The Clippers are 14-1 when they win the first quarter, including an undefeated record at home. Sacramento, on the other hand, has only led after the first quarter four times in their previous 10 games. Its record is 3-1 in those contests.
Sharing the rock. While the Clippers are among the league’s best at sharing the ball, including 125 (25.0 per game) in the last five games, Sacramento is last in the NBA in assists per game. Part of that has to do with their middle of the pack scoring offense (95.8 points per game), but another factor is the large quantity of isolation players on their roster (DeMarcus Cousins, Evans, Thornton, etc).
Crawford, who is averaging 4.1 assists in 10 December games, talked about the key for the Clippers’ uptick in assist rate: “giving up good shots for great shots. I think when you do that teams can’t key in on just a few guys. They have to key in on everybody because everybody’s a threat.”
The Clippers have won seven of their eight games against Sacramento since Griffin’s rookie season in 2010-11… The Clippers are holding opponents to 40.9% shooting during their 11-game winning streak… The Kings and Clippers are among the top four in the NBA in points in the paint. The Clippers score 47.9 per game inside (second in the league), while Sacramento averages 44.8 points.