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Kings vs. Clippers Preview: Must Win Game

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For the first time in 13 years, the Kings are fighting for a playoff spot. Tonight’s game could be the difference.

Kimani Okearah

Must win game. That’s a term you hear get thrown around a lot in professional sports. For the Kings, it’s a term that’s probably been used too loosely over the last decade-plus of ineptitude. The Kings haven’t seriously contended for the postseason since 2006, and nobody expected them to end that streak this year. But here we are on March 1st with the Kings firmly in the race. Tonight they face the team directly ahead of them in the standings, a team that has kicked their ass each time they’ve played them this season. This is the most important game in Golden 1 Center’s short history and the most important Kings game in over 13 years.

When: Friday, March 1st, 7:00 PM PST

Where: Golden 1 Center, Sacramento CA

TV: NBCSCA

Radio: KHTK Sports 1140 AM

For Your Consideration

The Kings have lost four of their last five games, but only one of those losses (the one against Minnesota) can truly be considered bad. In the other three, the Kings faced the three teams with the best records in the NBA and lost by a combined 5 points. Yes, it would have been awesome to get even one of those, but it’s still a hell of an effort.

The Clippers are not as thrilling as an opponent as the Warriors, Nuggets or Bucks. They don’t have any real stars. What they do have is a damn good team that has had the Kings number all year. The Clippers have scored over 120 points in each of the team’s three matchups this year, and have won each game by 9 points or more.

Now, this isn’t the same Clippers team as before, nor is it the same Kings team. The Clippers lost a major piece in Tobias Harris, and the Kings added a major one in Harrison Barnes. But the Clippers haven’t laid down since the trade as some expected them to. They’ve gone 4-4 since then, including a huge comeback win from 28 points down to the Boston Celtics.

The Clippers also still have one Montrezl Harrell. Every year there seems to be a guy who is just a Kings killer, and Harrell might just be the King of Kings killers right now. Harrell has averaged 23.7 points and 7.3 rebounds on 77.1% from the field in the three games against Sacramento. That’s not a typo. He has shot 77.1% against the Kings. To put it into raw numbers, Harrell has made 27 of 35 field goals against the Kings. They have had no answer for him, and without Marvin Bagley, the Kings have lost perhaps their only possible answer. Willie Cauley-Stein, Harry Giles and whoever else Dave Joerger throws out there will have their hands full trying to keep Harrell away from the rim, but for the Kings to have a chance to win they can’t afford for him to have yet another explosion.

Another interesting note about the Clippers games this year is that they have done a remarkable job at slowing down Buddy Hield, moreso than any other team. Buddy is averaging just 12.3 points on an abysmal 29.2% from the field and 10% from three against the Clippers this year. That’s a testament to L.A.’s defense. The Clippers don’t have Avery Bradley anymore, but they do have Garrett Temple and other long wings. Doc Rivers and company know just how crucial Buddy is to the Kings’ game plan and the Kings will have to do a much better job to get him going than they have in the past.

This is a huge game for both teams. The Clippers want to make the playoffs just as bad as the Kings (well maybe not management, but the coach and players do) and they know the Kings are right on their tail. I expect it should be a fun one, and if you’re going to the game tonight, bring some of that old school ARCO Thunder to Golden 1 Center.

Prediction

The team that wins tonight is going to make the playoffs.