Posted March 18, 2013 on AP on Fox
The Los Angeles Clippers have 15 contests remaining to hone their game before attempting a run through the expectedly rigorous Western Conference playoffs. They're also aware even teams like the woeful Sacramento Kings will be looking to raise their level of play down the stretch. Los Angeles seeks a sixth victory in seven road games Tuesday night by earning a sixth straight win over Sacramento. The Clippers (46-21) hold a slim lead over Memphis and Denver for the West's third seed and are coming off a 93-80 win over New York on Sunday to conclude a three-game homestand. Chris Paul, averaging 21.3 points and 10.3 assists over his last three games, said the Clippers need to pick things up down the stretch if they hope to appear in the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history. Los Angeles has split its last six games, with losses coming to Oklahoma City, Denver and Memphis. "We haven't been playing the style that we want to play,'' Paul said. "We can get better, so it's important for us to focus on these last 15 games.'' Blake Griffin had 12 points and 12 rebounds Sunday, including a highlight-reel one-handed dunk on a lob from Paul, and doesn't believe the Clippers will have any easy games going forward despite a relatively weak upcoming schedule. After facing the Kings (23-44), Los Angeles hosts Philadelphia and Brooklyn before visiting Dallas and New Orleans. Only the Nets are over .500. "You want to be playing not just for the seeding, but to be ready going into the playoffs,'' Griffin said. "We need to be dialed in for every single game, no matter who we're playing.'' Though Sacramento is allowing an NBA-worst 104.9 points per game - including an average of 109.4 over its last 12 - coach Keith Smart has been pleased with the team's play of late. Despite missing leading scorer DeMarcus Cousins, the Kings shot 54.2 percent and routed Chicago 121-79 on Wednesday before playing competitively in Sunday's 113-102 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. They combined for just 11 turnovers in those games. Isaiah Thomas had 26 points, six assists and committed only one turnover Sunday. The point guard is averaging 22.3 points over his last four games - 9.0 better than his season average - and hasn't had more than two giveaways in any of his last 11, good for a 3.56 assist-to-turnover ratio. "He's learning how to be a lead guard and how to manage a basketball game," Smart said. With Cousins' status uncertain for Tuesday, Patrick Patterson may see increased minutes again. He's totaled 36 points on 15-of-19 shooting (78.9 percent) with 14 rebounds in starting the last two after coming off the bench in his first nine games since being acquired from Houston. Patterson also has hit 9 of 15 from 3-point range since joining the Kings. "He's coming along at the right pace," Smart said. "He has a gift to shoot the ball; all he has to do is learn how to get space to get the shot off. He's been very good for our team and he's going to be a good pro for us." Thomas shot only 4 of 13 from the field while Paul finished with 24 points and 13 assists in Los Angeles' 97-85 home win Dec. 21 in the most recent meeting. The Kings, averaging 112.8 points over their last 10, have scored only 89.0 points per game during their five-game skid versus the Clippers.
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