SACRAMENTO -- When you are in the middle of a playoff chase, every game is important. But Friday evening’s matchup against the Los Angeles Clippers has all sorts of implications for the Sacramento Kings.
Trailing both the Spurs and the Clippers in the standings by two games coming into the night, this is an opportunity to move one step closer to the postseason with just 20 remaining in the season.
Most of the Kings’ players haven’t been in this position before. The race heightens the intensity of everything. While it’s a stressful time, it’s part of the natural progression that teams go through as they mature and develop.
“If you look at the long scope of things, what an opportunity to prepare for a game like this, in almost a playoff mode, can do for our team, will pay off in the years to come,” coach Dave Joerger told NBC Sports California.
For Joerger and his staff, the trick is to not complicate things. They’ve brought their young roster through the normal growth process. They learned to compete, then how to win. They are still working through the challenge of closing out tough veteran teams, but the last thing the staff wants to do is introduce too many concepts before a big game.
“We’re going to try to over prepare, without over burdening their minds,” Joerger said. “Full brains can sometimes equal slow feet. We’re a freedom of play team. We’re a team that wants to get up and down. So how do you simplify it as much as possible and stay true to who we are.”
Los Angeles holds a 3-0 advantage over the Kings in the season series, but they made major changes at the NBA’s trade deadline.
Tobias Harris and Avery Bradley are gone. Both gave Sacramento fits in their previous matchups. In their place, the Clippers have added some new pieces in Landry Shamet, JaMychal Green, Ivaca Zubic and former King, Garrett Temple.
While the faces have changed, the team continues to play the same style. They are 4-4 over their last eight games and are still adjusting to the new pieces on the roster. While most experts had them falling out of the race, they continue to fight.
“We’re going to be who we are, we’re going to play the way we play and we’re going to hope that’s good enough,” coach Doc Rivers said.
The Clippers weren’t expected to be in this position coming into the season, but Rivers and his staff have done a nice job of mixing veterans and young players.
Sacramento has shocked the league with their strong play as well. Vegas had the Kings winning 25.5 games this season, a number they have already surpassed.
The Kings have played well, but lost four of their last five. A win over the Clippers would put them back in the race. A loss would make the road to the postseason a lot more difficult.
View from the Outside
After spending two seasons in Sacramento, Temple was traded to Memphis during the offseason with the hopes of competing for a playoff spot with the Grizzlies. After falling out of the race early, the Grizzlies shipped Temple, along with Green to the Clippers in exchange for Bradley.
Temple is happy for the opportunity to once again compete for the postseason, but he is a fan of what he’s seeing from his former squad.
“I’m really proud of the guys, playing the way they’ve been playing,” Temple told NBC Sports California. “Obviously, we knew they were going to be good, but I didn’t know it was going to be this quick, honestly.”
“They’re playing their ass off,” Temple added. “I’m happy for them. I’m really happy for the city. This is long overdue.”
Trouble with Trez
Montrezl Harrell has been a handful for the Kings all season long. The 25-year-old big is averaging 23.7 points, 7.3 rebounds and two blocks per game against Sacramento, while shooting 77.1 percent from the field.
With Marvin Bagley on the shelf with a knee injury, rookie Harry Giles is likely to get a look against Harrell off Sacramento’s bench.
“It becomes more, I do what I do, just for a longer period of time,” Giles said following shootaround. “That’s all it is. Staying locked in and being ready to step up.”
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Giles has watched Harrell for a while. They are both from North Carolina and according to Giles, “We have similar energy, the same grit, I see where it all comes from, I understand it.”
If the Kings can’t find a solution to Harrell, it could be a long evening in Sacramento.