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.

How the four Kings rookies fit in heading into 2017-18 season

How the four Kings rookies fit in heading into 2017-18 season

SACRAMENTO - The Sacramento Kings swung for the fences during the NBA Draft Thursday night. They filled holes, took a gamble and might have even come away with a steal or two in their four selections. There are major roster questions that still have to be answered in free agency or through trade, but here is a look at how the new faces fit into the current situation in Sacramento.

De’Aaron Fox, point guard, University of Kentucky
Sacramento let it be known early that Fox was a target. The speedy point guard put on a show in his lone season in Kentucky, averaging 16.7 points, 4.6 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 1.5 steals in 29.6 minutes per game. He’ll need to improve his 3-point shooting (24.6 percent) to keep defenses from sagging off and clogging his running lanes, but his mechanics are sound.

According to Vlade Divac, “De’Aaron is our future.” Whether the team will look to add a veteran presence is still in question. Veterans Darren Collison and Ty Lawson have spoken about their willingness to return as a mentor, but Fox is expected to play major minutes in his rookie season as the Kings look to turn up the tempo.

Fox is a big time athlete with great size for the position. Standing a little over 6-foot-3 with a 6-foot-6.5 wingspan, the left handed point guard projects well on both ends of the floor. He’ll need to add weight to his 170-pound frame, but the Kings have a strong strength and conditioning team that has been working overtime all summer building on last season’s draft class.

With both Collison and Lawson entering free agency unrestricted, Fox is likely the Kings starter on Day 1.

Justin Jackson, small forward, University of North Carolina
Jackson tested the draft waters a year ago and decided to return to the Tar Heels for one more season. The gamble paid off as Jackson and his North Carolina teammates rolled through the NCAA tournament and were crowned champs.

In addition to winning it all, Jackson showed major improvement in his junior year under Roy Williams. The 22-year-old wing posted 18.2 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.8 assists in 32.2 minutes per game. Jackson’s biggest improvement came as a perimeter shooter where he converted 36.8 percent of his 3-point shots, compared to just 29.2 percent as a sophomore.

Like Fox, Jackson needs to add strength and weight to compete in the NBA for 82 games a season. He is a wiry athlete that stands 6-foot-8 with a 6-foot-11 wingspan, but he weighed in at just 201 at the Draft combine (up from his 192 a season ago).

As of today, Jackson is the only true small forward on the Kings roster. They have options in Garrett Temple and Malachi Richardson, but they will likely address the position in free agency or through trade. Jackson will play minutes as a rookie, but how many will be determined by how quickly he can adjust to the NBA level. He’s a mature scorer and he has defensive potential, but he will likely begin his career in a reserve role, at least initially.

Harry Giles, power forward/center, Duke University
There was a time when Giles ranked amongst the very best of high school player in the country. A series of bad breaks led Giles to tumble down the draft board where the Kings were more than willing to gamble at the 20th selection.

You can take his numbers at Duke and throw them out the window, he was never truly healthy in his time with Coach K. Standing 6-foot-10.5 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan, the 232-pound big has an incredible frame. Unfortunately, the frame is supported by two surgically repaired knees.

Giles tore his ACL in both knees as a prep athlete in separate incidents and he needed a third procedure to clean up one of his knees last year. If there is good news here, it is that both knees were damaged in contact injuries, as opposed to the knee giving out in a non-contact situation. The scope that occurred later is also not out of the norm as the body attempts to adjust to the changes in the joint.

Like the Duke medical staff, the Kings will need to show patience in years one and two as Giles continues to heal from the series of surgeries. The Kings knew the risk of drafting the talented 19-year-old and they also know that players like Danny Manning, Amar’e Stoudemire and Kenyon Martin went on to have very successful careers after bilateral ACL tears.   

Don’t expect Giles to play major minutes in year one, but the Kings fell in love with his talent in a pre-draft workout in Sacramento. The team has a bevy of bigs, including Skal Labissiere, Willie Cauley-Stein, Kosta Koufos and Georgios Papagiannis. This is a risk/reward pick for the future. If Giles can get right, he could be the best big man taken in the 2017 NBA Draft and maybe even a lot more than that.

Frank Mason III, point guard, Kansas University
Despite collecting a room full of trophies in his senior year at Kansas, Mason slid to the early second round where the Kings shunned trade offers and pounced. Like Fox, the high-flying guard was a major target of the Kings, even coming to Sacramento twice for visits before draft night.

The 23-year-old Wooden Award winner dominated in his final season under Bill Self, averaging 20.9 points, 5.2 assists, 4.2 rebounds and 1.3 steals in 36.1 minutes a night. He even shot 47.1 percent from behind the arc on 4.8 attempts per game. At 6-foot, 189-pounds, the biggest knock on Mason is his lack of size. He makes up for that with power and a 41-inch vertical.

Sacramento is in a tough situation when it comes to their point guard position. Fox was a no-brainer at number five and Mason is an NBA ready contributor at pick 34. But can they walk into a season with two rookies manning the point guard position? 

It’s possible. The Kings have Temple on the roster, who can steal some minutes, but Fox and Mason make an intriguing thunder and lightning pairing that should be a lot of fun to watch. Don’t be shocked if Mason earns a spot in the rotation in training camp and plays solid minutes in a sparkplug role off the bench as a rookie.

Purge of veterans continues as Kings waive Arron Afflalo

Purge of veterans continues as Kings waive Arron Afflalo

SACRAMENTO -- The Sacramento Kings continued their purge of veteran contracts Friday afternoon. NBC Sports California has confirmed that the team opted out of the second year of Arron Afflalo’s 2-year, $25 million deal. They will instead pay the shooting guard a $1.5 million buyout, saving $11 million and allowing him to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

Afflalo, 31, posted 8.4 points and 2.0 rebounds in 25.9 minutes per game. The 10-year NBA veteran played in 61 games, including 45 starts for the Kings last season while shooting 41.1 percent from behind the arc.

The former UCLA star is the second Kings veteran to have his option declined, joining Anthony Tolliver in the ranks of unrestricted free agents. Both Rudy Gay and Langston Galloway have chosen not to exercise player options with the team as the franchise turns to a youth movement.

Garrett Temple and Kosta Koufos are the only remaining players players on the Kings’ roster with more than two years experience in the league. Sacramento will enter free agency with upwards of $55 million to spend in free agency once they sign their four rookies from Thursday evening’s NBA Draft.