Kings running towards a freight train?

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Kings running towards a freight train?

LOS ANGELES (AP) - These are heady days for the long-suffering Los Angeles Clippers. They've tied a franchise record with an 11-game winning streak and at 19-6 are tied for the second-best record in the NBA.

Still, Chris Paul wants to keep the fans' euphoria in check, saying, "We're not trying to peak now. We're trying to build something."

While the Lakers, their Staples Center co-tenants, continue to stumble with a losing record and an early-season coaching change, the Clippers are flying high led by All-Stars Paul and Blake Griffin. Bolstered by one of the league's deepest benches, which was remade in the offseason, Paul and Griffin haven't been seeing much playing time in the fourth quarter.

That's when they become cheerleaders for free agent additions Jamal Crawford and former Laker Matt Barnes, along with Eric Bledsoe, Lamar Odom and Ronny Turiaf, the latter two being the other former Lakers on the team.

"They have their identity and it starts on defense," Griffin said.

The Clippers have shown they're capable of winning without big numbers from Griffin. They are 13-3 in games when he scores less than 20 points. He's averaging 18.0 points and 8.6 rebounds.

Veterans Chauncey Billups and Grant Hill, another free-agent pickup, have been vocal with their leadership and support while rehabbing injuries.

"We're all playing for one goal and not individual accolades," Paul said.

The Pacific Division leading-Clippers have taken advantage of a soft stretch in their schedule to win those 11 straight games, with victories over some of the league's worst teams, including New Orleans, Charlotte, Toronto, Detroit, Phoenix and Sacramento, their next opponent on Friday night.

"Eleven in a row. Not bad, is it?" owner Donald Sterling said before leading a locker room cheer after a 93-77 victory against the Hornets on Wednesday night.

Before the streak began, they knocked off some of the league's best. They have wins over Memphis, the Lakers, San Antonio (twice), Atlanta and defending NBA champion Miami.

"They have a chance to win it all," Toronto coach Dwane Casey said.

Even the team's veteran announcer, Ralph Lawler, is on his own winning streak. His "Lawler's Law," which dictates that the team reaching 100 points first will win, is 19-0 this season.

Paul and Griffin have clearly clicked on and off the court in their second season together. They frequently kid each other during their dual postgame interview sessions held in a separate room next to the locker room.

Paul regularly rallies his teammates for outings on the road, including dinners and trips to a mall or movie theater. The team took in the new Tom Cruise flick "Jack Reacher" on their last trip, a 4-0 venture as part of the current winning streak.

There's a family feeling in the locker room, too, with Paul's 3-year-old son and Barnes' twins among the kids cracking up the players after games. Big man DeAndre Jordan has a drawing of himself done by Caron Butler's 8-year-old daughter taped to his locker.

"I've never been on a team this close," said Crawford, averaging 16.6 points off the bench. "Everybody here is pulling for each other, whether it's your night or somebody else's night. Everybody has a role to play."

Willie Green, who has started 22 games in place of Billups, sat when the veteran guard recently returned for three games before getting hurt again.

"He didn't complain and he didn't play a minute," Paul said, giving an example of the attitude permeating the team.

The last time this franchise won 11 in a row was as the Buffalo Braves in 1974-75.

"Most of the guys weren't even born then," coach Vinny Del Negro points out. "We want to make our own history and that's only going to happen if we have the right mentality."

Del Negro preaches defense first and the Clippers have bought into it.

"We can score on any given night," Paul said. "As long as we defend, we give ourselves opportunities to win."

They should have a great opportunity to beat the Kings, who have won only one of their 11 road games. That includes a 116-81 drubbing at the hands of the Clippers on Dec. 1.

Sacramento (8-17) did manage to end a five-game losing streak with a 131-127 home win over Golden State on Wednesday, getting 24 points from DeMarcus Cousins and 23 from Aaron Brooks to help hold off a late Warriors rally.

"We showed a little bit of character and fired back," Brooks said.

Tyreke Evans missed his second straight game with a knee problem and his status is unclear for Friday.

Calipari sees Labissiere's progress during rookie season: 'I give Sac credit'

Calipari sees Labissiere's progress during rookie season: 'I give Sac credit'

Nothing has come easy for Skal Labissiere. He survived the earthquakes in Haiti. He moved to the United States speaking only only French and Haitian Creole as a young teenager. And his lone season at Kentucky he went from a top five prospect to a player that nearly fell out of the first round.

The knock on Labissiere coming out of Kentucky was that he didn’t like contact. Maybe it went farther than that, but there was no question that when he left for the NBA, he didn’t exactly walk away on the best of terms with head coach John Calipari.

When the Kings took on the Los Angeles Lakers at the Staples Center in the final week of the regular season, Calipari sat in the stands watching a small group of his former players. During the telecast, NBC Sports California’s Kayte Christensen caught up with the legendary coach and he couldn’t stop gushing about his Wildcats alums, specifically the play of Labissiere.

“I look at Skal and the progress - I give Sac credit,” Calipari told Christensen. “These guys are working with him. He’s playing more confident. They’re putting him in positions he can have success. I didn’t do as good a job as they did.”

Labissiere went off for 19 points on 8-of-13 shooting against Los Angeles. He added three rebounds and two blocks, but the Kings stumbled down the stretch, allowing the Lakers to come away with the 98-94 victory.

In his freshman season at Kentucky, Labissiere scored more than 19 points just once, a 26 point outburst in his second game of the year against NJIT (New Jersey Institute of Technology). His highwater mark in his rookie season for the Kings was a 32-point, 11-rebound performance against the Phoenix Suns on March 15.

“He’s getting stronger, he’s growing, you can see him maturing physically, which was a big part of it,” Calipari said. “He had a good season with us, but, I used him wrong. Now I see him now, it’s amazing he’ll speak for me after I’m watching him play like this.”

The 21-year-old power forward has a smile that lights up a room. He even uses it as a defense mechanism when things get uncomfortable. Speaking about his time in Kentucky seems uncomfortable for the 6-foot-11 forward.

“Coach Cal, he does a really good job of getting guys ready for the next level,” Labissiere told NBC Sports California. “I appreciate him.”

Labissiere is looking ahead, not backwards. He is a an incredible talent and he is thankful for the job that Dave Joerger and his staff have done with him during his first season in the NBA.

“Coach Joerger, every since I was drafted here, he’s always believed in me,” Labissiere said. “He’s always putting me in the right positions, making me work on different things that normally I didn’t do in college. He’s making me do different things and believing in me. I love playing for him.”

Kentucky has produced some of the best big men in the game, including DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns. It’s a hotbed for talent, but specifically for centers and power forwards that take their game to the next level in the pros.

Labissiere would love to be included in that list, but he isn’t trying to be someone he’s not. His focus is on improving and helping his team win games.

“I don’t know, I’m just working for myself, doing what I’m supposed to do,” Labissiere said. “If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. I’m just going to keep doing my thing.”

The Kings have big plans for Labissiere and the rest of their young core this summer. Labissiere will likely join the team’s three other 2016 first round picks in Las Vegas for Summer League in July. Another two or three rookies from the 2017 NBA Draft will likely join them as Sacramento attempts to build some early chemistry amongst.

Following Summer League, Labissiere is scheduled to travel to Haiti where he will hold a basketball camp in his home country. It’s the first time he’s been back to Haiti since moving to the US following the earthquake in 2010.

Labissiere wasn’t the only Kentucky product on display for Sacramento against the Lakers. Willie Cauley-Stein spent three seasons under Calipari before going sixth overall in the 2015 NBA Draft.

Cauley-Stein put up solid numbers in front of his former coach, finishing the game against the Lakers with 14 points, seven rebounds and three blocks in just 23 minutes of action.

“Willie is doing what he does,” Calipari said. “He’s flying up and down that floor, he’s blocking shots. He seems to have some freedoms to do some of the stuff he does well.”

Cauley-Stein is a completely different player two season removed from his time at Kentucky. He finished strong down the stretch for Sacramento, showing a newfound confidence in his scoring ability.

“It’s a great feeling, I don’t think he’s watched me play like that since I left,” Cauley-Stein said. “It was cool to get a chance to see him and show him things I’ve worked on and I’ve gotten better. It was really satisfying, [him] telling me I got better, so I know I’m [going] in the right direction.”

It’s clear that Labissiere and Cauley-Stein had a very different experience at Kentucky. The end result might work out just fine for the Sacramento Kings. The duo played alongside one another for plenty of games down the stretch as the team’s starting frontcourt. It’s a look Kings fans might get used to seeing going forward.

 

Source: Kings hire Perry as Executive VP of Basketball Operations

Source: Kings hire Perry as Executive VP of Basketball Operations

SACRAMENTO -- The changes keep coming in Sacramento. NBC Sports California has confirmed that the Kings have hired former Orlando Magic executive, Scott Perry, to fill the role of Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations.

Perry will report directly to Vlade Divac, who will retain final say in player personnel decisions.

Perry spent the last five seasons in Orlando as Vice President of Basketball Operations and Assistant General Manager. He was let go from the Magic last week following the dismissal of General Manager Rob Hennigan.

Perry, 53, began his career as an executive with the Detroit Pistons where he held the position of Director of Player Personnel from 2000-2007. He briefly left the Pistons, joining the Seattle Supersonics organization as an Assistant General Manager of the team for the 2007-08 season, before spending another four years as Detroit’s Vice President of Basketball Operations from 2008-2012.

Highly regarded around the league, Perry adds another experienced basketball mind to the Kings front office.

During his postseason media availability last week, Vlade Divac spoke openly about his willingness to accept additional help.

“We’re open always to improve - the team, the front office, everything is open for improvement,” Divac said. “I’m very happy and confident in what we have right now, but like I said, we should be open if something can you better.”

With the addition of Luke Bornn on Wednesday to head up the team’s analytics department, and Perry on Friday, the Kings appear to be building a stronger infrastructure as they move into a full youth movement.

Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical was first with the information.