Blake Griffin has dominated DeMarcus Cousins in their matchups, powering a season sweep by the Los Angeles Clippers last season.The power forwards meet for the first time this season Saturday night when Griffin and the Clippers try to drop Cousins' Kings to 0-6 on the road.Los Angeles (9-6) is 6-1 against Sacramento (4-11) over the last two seasons since Cousins came into the league. Griffin is averaging 20.6 points on 60.2 percent shooting to go with 12.0 rebounds per game in those meetings while Cousins is averaging 11.0 points, 9.0 boards and shooting 35.7 percent.Cousins' scoring average against the Clippers is his worst against any Western Conference foe. He grew so frustrated after fouling out in 18 minutes in a 93-85 home loss to Los Angeles on April 5 that he called Griffin an "actor." Two days later, Griffin had 27 points and 14 rebounds in a 109-94 home win over Sacramento.The Clippers went 3-0 against the Kings in 2011-12.While the duel inside could prove decisive, Los Angeles figures to have an advantage on the perimeter if Sacramento guard Tyreke Evans misses a second straight game.Evans sat out Friday due to a bruised left knee in a 97-92 home defeat to Indiana. He is averaging a career-low 14.9 points, but had netted 21.0 per game over his last five outings.His absence could make it easier for Chris Paul, who had 23 points and 11 assists in Wednesday's 101-95 home win over Minnesota. The Clippers ended a season-high four-game losing streak.The game marked the season debut for Chauncey Billups, who started and had seven points and three assists in 19 minutes in his first action since Feb. 6 after recovering from a torn left Achilles tendon."Now that I'm back, I look forward to regaining my old form," he told the Clippers' official website. "And I'm going to be very patient with that. Just me being back is a success and a blessing, so I'm going to be happy with that until everything else kind of comes around."Clippers leading scorer Jamal Crawford is only averaging 11.5 points on 32.5 percent shooting in his last four games."I find myself in the corner just waiting on the action, when I have to go make the action happen," Crawford said. "That's who I am and that's what I'll get back to doing.Griffin had 18 points and six boards Wednesday as he bounced back from a season-low, four-point effort two nights earlier against New Orleans.Cousins, meanwhile, had 19 points and 16 rebounds Friday for his first double-double in six games. The big man, however, struggled to make 5 of 17 shots, and is shooting 42.0 percent on the season."Yes, he forced too many shots tonight," Kings coach Keith Smart said of Cousins. "He needs to start taking those shots that are available."The Kings are one game worse than their record after 15 games last season and enduring their worst road start since going 0-9 to begin 2007-08."I just knew our team could be better and much further along than where we are right now," Smart said. "I am very disappointed."
No excuses, from top to bottom, the Sacramento Kings have to be better. After a three-game eastern swing that included blowout losses in New York, Washington and Atlanta by a combined 91 points, the Kings have hit a new low.
“We owe Sacramento, our fans, better than what we’re showing them, like tonight,” veteran point guard George Hill said following the team’s 46 point loss to the Hawks on Wednesday evening.
The Kings couldn’t buy a basket against Atlanta, shooting just 35.2 percent from the field. Poor offense led to even worse defense. Atlanta destroyed Sacramento in the pick-and-roll, turning journeyman Dewayne Dedmon into an All-NBA first teamer for one evening.
Dedmon is no Kristaps Porzingis. But for one night, the 28-year-old center who averages 4.7 points for his career, went off for 20 points, 14 rebounds, five assists, two blocks and two steals in just 23 minutes of action.
“Losing is one thing, but we’ve got to do a better job of competing,” a clearly frustrated Dave Joerger told reporters following the loss. “You don’t have to be an a-hole to play a competitive, get in it, get after, aggressive basketball.”
Luke Babbitt doubled his season scoring average in the first half, hitting flat-footed wide open jumpers. It was reminiscent of what Courtney Lee did to the Kings during New York’s 27-point win Saturday.
Once Dedmon and Babbitt got it going, Dennis Schroder took over and the game quickly slipped out of control
“You can’t back down from it, we got our butt kicked and we have to take it on the chin ourself,” Hill said.
“Coach can only coach,” Hill added. “We’re out there on the court. As players, we have to take full responsibility of ourself. We’re out there playing like crap so that loss is on us as individuals and as players.”
So far this season, Joerger has allocated minutes evenly throughout his roster. Rookie De’Aaron Fox leads the team in minutes per game at 26.1, but 10 players average 18.7 minutes a night or more. It sounds like that is about to change.
“We’ve got a lot of nice guys,” Joerger said. “I love em, I love em, but we’ve got to find - I never said that I would split the minutes between 10 guys or 11 guys. I’m looking for guys who jump up and say, ‘You know what, I play so hard you should be playing me. I’m playing so well, you should be playing me.’ And we’re not getting that collectively right now.”
Slow starts have plagued this team throughout the season. The Hawks scored the first nine points of the game and by halftime, it was already a 29 point blowout.
The New York game started in similar fashion with the Knicks scoring the game’s first 10 points. Despite changes to the opening unit, the slow starts have almost become the norm.
The 46-point loss was the sixth worst in franchise history. Sacramento came into the night with a 10-game losing streak at Philips Arena, dating back to 2006, but Atlanta was just 2-11 on the season and hadn’t secured a home win before the Kings rolled through town.
Who is to blame? There is plenty to go around in a drubbing of this magnitude, but the woes so far this season will take more than a 14-game sample size to find a culprit or two. There are contributing factors coming into the season, but eventually, you have to look past a shortened training camp and 10 players with three seasons of NBA experience or less.
This is the squad the Kings will take into battle every game and they have to play better. Be it the Atlanta Hawks or the Portland Trail Blazers who roll into Sacramento on Friday evening, the effort and intensity has to increase or this is going to be a very long season of Kings basketball.
The Sacramento Kings’ search for answers takes them to Atlanta, where they’ll look to snap a two-game losing streak. Philips Arena has never been kind to Sacramento. The Kings have lost 10 straight at the home of the Hawks.
Through the early part of their schedule, the Kings have struggled with slow starts. They looked good coming out of the gate against the Wizards, but they fell apart in the third quarter. George Hill played well for one of the few times this season, but Sacramento needs more from their $19 million-a-year free agent acquisition.
Injuries have hurt Atlanta early, but so has a mass exodus of All-Star talent. Two seasons ago the Hawks won 48 games. They’ll be lucky to win 30 this year as they rebuild from the ground up.
Hawks by 3.5
MATCHUP TO WATCH
George Hill vs. Dennis Schroder -- Hill is coming off one of his best games in a Kings jersey, scoring 16 points on 5-of-9 shooting against the Wizards on Monday. He’ll face a speedy Dennis Schroder, who is having a career year so far this season, posting a career-high 19.8 points and 6.7 assists. If Hill can get his offense going and stick with Schroder, the Kings have a shot to pick up a win on the road.
WHERE THEY STAND
Kings: 3-10, fifth place in Pacific
Hawks: 2-12, fifth place in Southeast
Kings: F Vince Carter (kidney stones) is out, PF Harry Giles (bilateral knee rehab) out.
Hawks: F Ersan Ilyasova (knee) probable, PF Mike Muscala (ankle) questionable, F/C Miles Plumlee (quad) out, F DeAndre Bembry (wrist) out.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
COMPETE -- The Kings have had their fair share of drubbings so far this season. They struggle from one quarter to the next and they sit at just 3-10 on the season. Atlanta isn’t a good team and if the Kings come out and compete, they have a strong opportunity to pick up their fourth win of the season and head home on a high note.
MORE HILL -- After averaging 2.3 points per game over his previous three, Hill broke out against the Wizards for 13 points in the first quarter and 16 points overall. If Hill could have matched his first half numbers after the intermission, the Kings might have had an opportunity to stay in the game a little longer.
FIND A FEATURED PLAYER -- Someone needs to step forward and become a go-to guy. Zach Randolph has had moments, but the Kings don’t have a single player that requires a double-team, making offensive sets more difficult than they need to be. De’Aaron Fox has potential to be that guy, but he’s coming off the bench. Young or old, the Kings need a player to establish himself as a consistent threat.
These two teams split the season series 1-1 last year, which each club protecting their home courts. The Hawks hold a 158-154 advantage all-time over the the Kings and lead the series 42-18 during the Sacramento-era.