These are the nights when NBA players earn their paychecks. The Clippers faced a road game against an underwhelming opponent in what might be considered the dog days of a season. The Clippers somehow maintained just enough interest Wednesday night at Sleep Train Arena to emerge with a 116-105 victory over the Sacramento Kings. Here are five takeaways from the game:
1. Blake Griffin continues to work his way back into form. The forward’s movement is becoming more fluid and his shooting range is slowly increasing in his return from a five-week absence caused by surgery to remove a staph infection from his right elbow. Griffin made a 15-foot jumper in the first half but came up short on a few other shots outside the post as he continues to rebuild strength in his right arm. He finished with 19 points on seven-for-16 shooting to go with 10 rebounds.
2. The Clippers improved to 2-0 on their “lucky seven” stretch. The soft pocket of their schedule takes a tougher turn this weekend with home games Friday against Washington and Sunday against New Orleans. The Wizards have won five consecutive games and the Pelicans have, for the moment, at least, overtaken Oklahoma City for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Clippers lost to Washington in December and suffered a setback in their most recent game against the Pelicans in late January.
3. Hedo Turkoglu justified Doc Rivers’ decision to re-sign him. The veteran forward has gone through stretches this season where he has played sparingly or not at all, but he came up big when the Clippers needed him against his former team Wednesday. Turkoglu made seven of 12 shots, including five of 10 three-pointers, on the way to 19 points. “Turk was amazing,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said. “A throwback game for him. It was great, though. I think what we’ve done with him all year, kind of eased him through the season, and now he’s playing a little bit more, he has better rhythm and he can shoot.”
4. J.J. Redick never misses. Or at least it seems that way. The purest shooter on the Clippers has continued his tear even with Griffin back in the lineup and eating up shot opportunities. Redick made nine of 16 shots, including seven of 12 from long range, to help the Clippers avoid what would have been a horrible loss on a night the Kings were missing starters DeMarcus Cousins and Darren Collison. He even did a Jamal Crawford impression in the fourth quarter when he drew a foul on a three-pointer and completed the four-point play by making the free throw. Redick has averaged 21.7 points over his last nine games and said it’s possibly the best stretch of his NBA career.
5. Only Chris Paul can collect 30 points and 11 assists and not rank among the top three story lines. The Clippers point guard finished fourth in our estimation, behind Redick’s hot streak, Turkoglu’s retro night and Griffin’s rounding into form. That’s just another illustration of how overlooked Paul can be, even on his own team. But his brilliance is such a given that it has almost been taken for granted throughout the NBA, which has hurt his candidacy for the league’s most valuable player award.