All eyes are on Los Angeles Clippers’ extensive roster experiment when the team takes the court for the first time since the All-Star break with a home game Friday against Sacramento Kings.
After making multiple deals in advance of the NBA trade deadline, the Clippers made another significant addition this week when they signed nine-time All-Star Russell Westbrook following his unceremonious departure from the Los Angeles Lakers.
Westbrook was traded from the Lakers to the Jazz at the deadline, then set free in a contract buyout in Utah. Westbrook’s move to the Clippers came after Paul George and Marcus Morris Sr. made a public plea for his addition.
It has been a somewhat trying season for the Clippers, who opened with NBA Finals aspirations, only to see George and Kawhi Leonard have to work their way through injuries. Both are healthy now with a task ahead of merging their talents with the enigmatic Westbrook.
“That’s a huge part, man for anybody, for any normal human being in any situation in the workplace,” Westbrook said. “(To hear) that somebody, that a lot of teammates and people want you, is very important to me.
“I value that a lot. I’ve been in this league a long time and being somewhere that people want you and they embrace you, that meant a lot to me.”
At 33-28, the Clippers are in fourth place in the Western Conference, nipping at the heels of Sacramento.
The Kings are a model of how a franchise can perform a roster upheaval and fashion it into a winner. Sacramento did not make a significant move at this year’s trade deadline, but made one last year, shipping Tyrese Haliburton and Buddy Hield to the Indiana Pacers to land Domantas Sabonis.
At 18.8 points per game and an NBA-best 12.4 rebounds this season, Sabonis made a return visit to the All-Star Game. In a refreshing sign of a trade working for both teams, Haliburton was an All-Star for the Pacers.
The Kings opened the post All-Star schedule in third place in the Western Conference, earning a 133-116 victory over the visiting Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday in the first night of a back-to-back. Sabonis had a triple-double with 18 points, 18 rebounds and 10 assists, while De’Aaron Fox had 31 points.
After missing two games before the break with an ankle injury, Malik Monk returned for Sacramento to score 15 points in 21 minutes.
“We put ourselves in a position to where we control our own destiny,” Kings head coach Mike Brown said about the final third of the season. “You want that. You don’t want to have to rely on others to put yourself in a position to have some success in the final standings. We control what lies in front of us and now let’s see if we can go do it.”
Since a six-game winning streak in January, the Kings are 7-7.
The Kings and Clippers face each other twice in an eight-day stretch; they meet again March 3 in Sacramento. They split two previous meetings this season.
Leonard did not play for the Clippers in either of the previous two games against the Kings, while George also was out when Sacramento scored a victory on December 3.
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