Reserves carry Clippers past Kings
LOS ANGELES — Not long after receiving the kind of positive news they yearned for, the Los Angeles Clippers went out and showed how excited and appreciative they are for the late holiday gift.
Early Tuesday, it was revealed that All-Star forward Blake Griffin could be back to action by the end of the week, crushing an early estimate that he wouldn’t return until the end of January from his sprained left knee.
The Clippers then went out and played like an excited bunch. Montrezl Harrell scored 22 points, Lou Williams added 21, and the Clippers’ bench helped power a 122-95 victory over the Sacramento Kings.
Los Angeles’ reserves outscored Sacramento’s backups 72-43.
“They’re going to come in and play hard, they are going to move the ball, and we are going to run stuff for them that is more ball movement and cuts (oriented),” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said of his reserves. “They figured that part out, and then the scoring happens.”
Willie Cauley-Stein scored 17 points with seven rebounds for the Kings, who saw their two-game road win streak come to an end. Buddy Hield and Malachi Richardson each added 10 for Sacramento (11-22).
“We were trying to stay in front of them, and they shot it pretty well and got where they wanted to on the court,” Kings coach Dave Joerger said. “I think our offense helped fuel their offense. We settled for a lot of shots, a lot of long jumpers instead of getting into the lane.”
Clippers rookie Jamil Wilson started and scored a career-high 17 points, 14 of which came in the first quarter. DeAndre Jordan added 13 points and 15 rebounds as Los Angeles (14-19) won for the third time in the past four games.
However, just as Wilson is settling in, his status with the Clippers could be in jeopardy. Wilson and C.J. Williams were both signed to two-way contracts, meaning while they can play 45 days in the NBA this year, while the rest of their time must be spent in the G League.
Because of a rash of injuries, both players have exhausted much of that 45-day window, leaving the team with a decision to make soon. If the Clippers do not transfer them to the NBA roster before the 45-day limit ends, they won’t be able to play in Los Angeles for the remainder of the year.
“It’s going to be tough,” Rivers said. “I won’t tell you our plans, but they’re not great, I can tell you that. That’s all I can tell you. ... We don’t have a lot of good options right now. We have to play them because we need them and the fact that you could possibly lose them would hurt. That probably ... or possibly could happen.”
The Clippers took control of the game in the second quarter and never looked back, outscoring the Kings 41-23 in the period.
Los Angeles shot 61 percent from the field in the opening two quarters and 55 percent for the game. The Kings shot 44.4 percent before halftime and 41.7 percent for the game.
Wilson had his season high in points before the first 12 minutes of the game had lapsed. His previous best of 13 points came Dec. 18 at San Antonio. Overall, he went 5 of 7 from 3-point range and 6 of 9 overall from the field.
Asked about his dicey roster situation, Wilson elected to talk about team unity instead.
“It’s always good to play well individually, but on a night like this when everyone plays well collectively, we’re a hard team to beat,” Wilson said. “It’s hard to be a team that has everything clicking on all cylinders and is playing as hard as we are on the defensive end.”
After starting the season 1-9 in road games, the Kings had been much improved away from home, winning five of their next nine. However, that trend did not hold in their first visit to Staples Center this season.
The Kings did match a season high with 19 fastbreak points.
“I felt like we didn’t do our coverages right,” Cauley-Stein said. “They got to penetrate the lane and spread out at the (3-point arc), get to the line and they just really controlled the whole game offensively. They got to do whatever they wanted. We’ve got to be more assertive on defense in taking away things.”
Los Angeles’ victory came at the start of a stretch in which the Clippers will play seven consecutive games at Staples Center. One of those will be as the visiting team Friday against the Lakers. Harrell said the Clippers’ reserves will be ready to contribute.
“They call the team coming off the bench ‘The Goon Squad,’ and I’m the leader of it,” Harrell said. “When we get on the floor, it’s all about us, and we’re not worried about anything the other team is doing. We stick to our principles and carry them out.”
NOTES: Clippers F Blake Griffin could return from his sprained left knee as early as the Friday game against the Lakers, coach Doc Rivers said. ... Clippers F Wesley Johnson, who missed his fifth game with left foot soreness, is on track to return Friday, Rivers said. ... Clippers rookie G Milos Teodosic set a season high with 10 assists on Tuesday, two better than his previous best and four shy of his top assist game internationally. ... With just nine points and five rebounds against the Clippers, Kings F Zach Randolph saw his run of at least 10 points and five rebounds end at 15 consecutive games. ... Kings F Vince Carter had his status upgraded to “probable” after missing the Saturday game with strained ribs, but he did not play despite the efforts from the Staples Center crowd of 16,693, which chanted his name periodically.