The Clippers came to Sacramento for the Kings’ second game of the season without Kawhi Leonard and John Wall. In that one, Mike Brown’s team should have came out with their first victory, but too many defensive breakdowns and a 57.7% night from the free throw line led to a disappointing two-point loss.
A lot has changed since mid-October.
Since that loss, the Kings have shot over 80% from the charity stripe while also making tremendous strides defensively. In fact, they’ll be coming off of their best defensive game of the year against Indiana.
Despite a 113.6 rating on the year as a whole, over their previous five games, Sacramento’s defensive rating is 109.8, which is in the top-ten in that span.
On the other hand, despite being in the top-five in defensive rating on the year, in their last five, the Clippers’ rating on that end is an inflated 115.9.
Much of their recent struggles have arisen with their stars facing some injury adversity. Paul George–who seemingly couldn’t miss a shot when he played the Kings in October–has been dealing with a hamstring that’s kept him out since November 19th. And Kawhi Leonard is dealing with an ankle issue that’s kept him off the floor for the last week-plus.
Since George went down, the defensive-minded Clippers have only held their opponent below 110 points once–against Indiana–and have split those six games, 3-3.
In addition to their stars, sharpshooter Luke Kennard has also been sidelined for the last week or so with a calf injury, further hurting the team’s offensive muscle.
These three were expected to miss the two games this past week, but as for Saturday’s game, their statuses remain unknown. Though, coach Tyronn Lue did say before their game on Wednesday that they’d be returning “soon.”
Could it be Saturday?
Obviously, it would be a massive advantage for Sacramento to take on a short-handed Clippers squad, but regardless, here are some areas of emphasis for taking on Lue’s team whether they are shorthanded or not.
Don’t get stagnant
Whether guys are missing or not, Ty Lue’s group can always compete for a win with their defense as they always seem to. They seem to always make things difficult on opposing offenses, accumulating shots by forcing lower-percentage looks.
The Clippers force their opponents to shoot 45.0% from the field, which is among the very best, and opponents only shoot 34.3% from beyond the arc. And they allow the third least free throw attempts at 20.8 a game.
This year they are defending the inside much better, allowing just 47.3 paint points to their opponents per game. That in turn helps explain why the Clippers don’t allow their opponents to shoot a high percentage from three despite the fact their opponents average 31.3 attempts from deep, which is in the top-ten for most opponent attempts. Other teams are often forced into those shots without them being particularly good looks.
A remedy for that is not slipping into the tendency of settling on three-pointers. In other words, the Kings can’t get stagnant; they have to attack inside-out to get good high-percentage looks from three.
Whenever Sacramento can manage to do that, it usually means good things, and when they don’t, it flattens the sophistication of their offense.
Control the pace again
Fans saw how the pace and movement can take over a game this past Wednesday against the Clippers especially after a couple of losses where it wasn’t at the level it needed to be.
“We actually just needed that win, especially the way we’ve been playing the last couple of games” Malik Monk admitted postgame Wednesday. “We lost our pace, too, so we were able to pick it up today.”
Going hand in hand with the importance of avoiding stagnancy is controlling the pace, especially with a defensively talented team. LA’s pace factor is in the bottom half of the league at 98.98 while Sacramento’s is 102.74, near the very top.
A faster pace definitely favors the offensive team over the defensive one. As such, a relentlessness resembling that of Wednesday’s win could potentially produce a similar result.
Win the turnover battle
Once more, a key to this one revolves around turnovers.
The Clippers only commit half a turnover a game more that the Kings do. The two teams also allow about the same amount of points off of those turnovers, with Sacramento allowing a fraction of a point more.
Turnovers could end up being a massive difference-maker. LA can’t afford to give up an avalanche of points off of turnovers, and Sacramento can’t be handing free points and possessions away.
If the Kings can maintain an edge in the turnover categories, it could, as alluded to, prove too much for the Clippers. While committing turnovers is always detrimental, Sac hurts their opponents far more, scoring 18.8 off of them compared to LA’s 16.0 per game.
Bring an added edge on the offensive glass
On Sacramento’s defensive glass, the Kings should be good as they have the highest defensive rebounding-percentage and allow the least offensive rebounds. And LA is near the bottom in terms of offensive boards and are dead last in second chance points.
Looking at the other end, the Clippers are in the bottom half of the league in opponent offensive rebounds and second chance points allowed.
Sacramento is not necessarily an imposing force on the other end, but they are coming off a game where they performed very well at times on the offensive glass. Chimezie Metu notably had 3 offensive rebounds, Keegan Murray had a couple, three others had one, and like icing on the cake, Alex Len grabbed 3 in about five minutes of garbage time.
The Kings have the opportunity to be disruptive on the boards.