LOS ANGELES — Saturday, before Los Angeles faced the Sacramento Kings for the final time this season, Clippers coach Doc Rivers was asked if winning the final three games of the season was important in preparing for the playoffs.
Rivers said no. He said it would be nice, but it really didn’t matter with Los Angeles locked into the No. 3 spot in the seedings. But, obviously, he hadn’t discussed it with all-star guard Chris Paul.
“We’re still playing for something,” Paul said after the Clippers beat Sacramento, 117-101, to sweep the four-game series with the Kings and tie their own record for most wins in a season.
The victory was the Clippers 56th, to go with 24 losses, and matched their total of last season. It also was a team-record 33rd win of the season at home.
“You always play to win,” said Paul, who had 17 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds. “It’s always a competition, I don’t care what you’re doing. We can keep building confidence on defense. We can work on execution offensively and just keep trying to stay in a rhythm.
“This was good for us. Getting Jamal (Crawford) back on the court and trying to get him into a rhythm going into the playoffs, seeing what the rotation could possibly be like. It was a good win for us.”
Crawford, who had missed the past five games with a left calf strain, returned with 10 points in 19 minutes and hit back-to-back 3-pointers that boosted the Clippers lead from 6 to 12 late in the fourth quarter.
“It was good,” Rivers said of the win. “I thought it was a little up and down, but overall I was pretty happy. I like that we had foul trouble and had to kind of maneuver through that. Their bigs are really tough and overall I liked how we played.”
Sacramento coach Mike Malone said the difference was the Clippers’ ability to get points off rebounds and turnovers and their offensive strength inside.
“A lot of it was transition,” said Malone, who had called neutralizing the Clippers inside one of the keys for the Kings. “After made baskets for us they’d go coast-to-coast and get a lay-up. We wouldn’t get back, we wouldn’t stop the ball. They’re a good team, but 25-5 in transition is crazy and 54 points in the paint is crazy. I just hated our defense tonight. “
Forward Blake Griffin led the Clippers offensively with 27 points and nine assists, center DeAndre Jordan had 21 points, nine rebounds and seven blocked shots and JJ Redick and Matt Barnes added 13 and 12, respectively.
Sacramento center DeMarcus Cousins had 32 points, 12 rebounds and five assists and fouled out with 16 seconds to play.
“We couldn’t get any stops the whole night,” Malone said. “They just got whatever they wanted the whole night. It was just lay-up after lay-up after lay-up. I thought we competed. I though we played hard. But I didn’t think we played smart.”
Jordan was a pivotal figure in the first half at both ends of the floor. The 6-foot-11 center had a career-high nine blocked shots in a 104-98 overtime win over the Kings at Sacramento on Nov. 29 and he displayed that same intimidation Saturday. The Texas A&M product blocked four shots and influenced several others in helping to limit the Kings to 39 percent shooting (16 of 41).
Offensively, after missing his first dunk attempt of the day, he had three dunks and a lay-in the help Los Angeles build a 48-40 lead with 3:21 to go until halftime.
Then he became the victim in another installment of Hack-a-Jordan, although he wasn’t really hacked. The fouls the Kings administered were mere touches designed to send the notoriously poor foul shooter to the free throw line.
The strategy worked briefly as Jordan missed seven in a row, but Sacramento had gotten only a free throw from Reggie Evans and three points from Cousins and the Clippers still led 49-44 with 1:17 left before intermission.
Then, with the crowd cheering him on, Jordan made two in a row. Paul then drilled a 3-pointer and Griffin hit two free throws to make it 56-47 at halftime.
In the first half, Jordan had 12 points, Paul 11 and Griffin nine for the Clippers, while Cousins had 15 points and Rudy Gay and Reggie Evans scored 10 apiece for the Kings. Gay finished with 16 points, and Evans scored 14 to go with 14 rebounds.
Jordan and Griffin got the first two baskets of the third quarter to put Los Angeles up 60-47, and Griffin’s lay-in made it 85-71 with 1:11 to play in the third.
Cousins led the Kings back within two, 91-89, only to have Jordan block the bid for a tying basket and Los Angeles go on a 12-2 run to lead 103-91 after guard Jamal Crawford’s 3-point basket with 5:22 to play.
NOTES: Clippers C DeAndre Jordan has the league’s longest streak of consecutive games played in the regular season, at 238 and counting, and coach Doc Rivers said it’s in large part because of his mentality. “He does have bangs and bruises and sprains, but he just keeps playing,” Rivers said. “That’s just DJ. He had a root canal one morning before practice and then practiced the whole practice. It was great. He didn’t talk a lot, which was even better.” … Sacramento G Isaiah Thomas (right quad contusion) missed his 10th straight game Saturday and won’t see action Sunday against Minnesota, but coach Michael Malone said he might play in the Kings’ home finale Wednesday. “If he’s not going to go out there and do any further damage to his injury and he’s working so hard to get back and he wants to play, I have no problem with allowing him to do so,” Malone said. … The Kings have signed G Jared Cunningham for the remainder of the season. He joined the team on a 10-day contract on March 31. … The game featured the two most-fouled players in the NBA this season in the Clippers’ Blake Griffin and Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins. They began the day having been fouled 568 and 518 times, respectively.
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