The Los Angeles Clippers will debut their new Big 3 tonight when they play their first game out of the All-Star break against the visiting Sacramento Kings as former MVP Russell Westbrook will join All-Star teammates Paul George and Kawhi Leonard for the first time as a member of the Clippers – George and Westbrook used to be teammates with Oklahoma City, and PG13 pushed for the Clips to sign Westbrook after traded by the Lakers and then bought out by Utah.
Russell Westbrook To Make Clippers Debut Friday Vs. Kings
After shipping out Reggie Jackson and John Wall at the deadline, Clippers management believed it still needed a veteran point guard to fill out a deep roster. Coach Ty Lue has made it clear in the past he prefers having a veteran point guard in his rotation and the Clippers need someone to push the tempo. They rank 24th in pace and 22nd in fastbreak points.
Westbrook can get his own shot at the rim outside of Leonard and George come playoff time. The Clippers have just 21 regular-season games remaining before the playoffs start.
“If he’s doing too much or not enough, I’ll let him know,” Lue said. “But we want him to be the player that he is, the MVP, the Hall of Famer, everything he brings every single night. We want him to be that person, that player. And then we’ve just got to make sure that it’s in the confines of our team and what we’re trying to do teamwise.”
Westbrook has averaged 15.9 points and 7.5 assists this season, and can help improve a team weakness on the glass when the Clippers go small with his 6.2 rebounds per game. However, Westbrook is shooting just 41.7% from the field, including 29.6% from 3. Of the 130 guards who have averaged at least 20 minutes this season, Westbrook’s 46.6% effective field goal rate — a measure of shooting efficiency that accounts for a three-pointer being more valuable than a two-point shot — ranks 118th.
It remains unclear whether Westbrook, a Los Angeles native who chose the Clippers over the Bulls, will come off the bench or start – Terance Mann has been playing well as the starter. The Clippers love his knife versatility and the pace and defensive help he added to the starters. Nonetheless, Lue views him as a small forward.
Winners of 10 of their last 14 games since Jan. 20, the Clippers have trended in the right direction, though star Leonard noted l they are not yet playing at a championship level. LA will not be 100 percent full strength tonight as vastly underrated center Ivica Zubac due to a calf injury. Zubac will be sidelined for the first time since Dec. 17, which should open up an opportunity for new addition Mason Plumlee to step into the starting lineup. In his last five games, Zubac averaged 11.4 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.4 blocks across 30.1 minutes.
The Clippers currently rank fourth in the NBA in opponent points per game (111.1), 10th in opponent FG% (47.0) and tied for 10th in defensive rating (112.6). LA has scored over 100 points in 20 of their last 21 contests. Since January 6, the Clippers are sixth in the NBA in offensive rating (119.1) and tied for second in 3P% (39.4).
Sacramento is in the second of a back-to-back but caught a major break as Portland was without several key players on Thursday and the Kings predictably won easy, 133-116. Domantas Sabonis finished with 18 points, 18 rebounds, 10 assists, and three steals. Up to seven triple-doubles on the season, Sabonis has two in his last four games. De’Aaron Fox had 31 points. He has scored 20+ points in 13 of his last 16 games, including 25 points or more in 11 of those outings, averaging 27.3 points and 6.4 assists per game on 52.0% shooting in that span.
The Clippers and Kings have split two meetings thus far, each winning on the road in the 2022 portion of the schedule. The Clippers are 5-3 with a rest advantage this season as they will have here, and the Kings are 5-4 with no rest. This is the first of six back-to-backs the Kings will play over their last 24 games as they try to secure a playoff berth for the first time since 2006.
Sacramento is third in the Western Conference, two games behind the No. 2 Grizzlies and 1 ½ games ahead of the fourth-place Clippers (33-28).
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