April 18, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Clippers’ Serge Ibaka to play Wednesday, Lou Williams unsure

Clippers starting center Serge Ibaka will “definitely be back” in the lineup Wednesday against Sacramento after a one-game absence, coach Tyronn Lue said Tuesday.

Ibaka missed his first game this season Sunday because of what the team called an illness unrelated to COVID-19. The 7-footer has averaged 11.8 points and 6.2 rebounds while shooting 51%. The Clippers’ offensive rating has improved by six points when Ibaka plays, while their defensive rating improves by three points.

The availability of backup guard Lou Williams for the matchup against the Kings remains unclear, with Lue saying the veteran’s balky hip that has caused him to miss the last two games will continue to be evaluated.

“I think he’s going to do a little bit today in practice, see how he feels,” Lue said.

The NBA’s all-time leading scorer off the bench, Williams has posted higher field-goal and three-point percentages this season than his career average, yet is averaging only 9.3 points while reaching the free-throw line just over two times each game. Williams has averaged double-digit scoring in each of his last 13 seasons and 4.5 free throws for his career. In his first three seasons with the Clippers, Williams’ averages have risen to 20.4 points and six free throws per game.

Even with the dip in his production this season, Williams remains one of the Clippers’ few bankable offensive threats off the bench and his absence leaves a hole to fill.

“It’s a little tough because at first you kind of look around and see where scoring is going to come from,” reserve guard Terance Mann said. “Just having confidence in each other’s games, it’ll all work out. Whatever happens happens and whoever is out there on the floor can make it happen with that next-guy-up mentality with Lou there or not.”

One reserve whose next-man mentality Lue lauded Tuesday was Patrick Patterson, after the veteran forward scored 10 points off the bench Sunday against Indiana after not playing a minute in his previous five games. It could be unlikely he gets extended playing time against Sacramento, because his playing time at backup center was created by Ibaka’s absence.

“Pat Pat has been doing a good job of playing five-on-five with the young guys, and just keeping his flow, and that’s what we need,” Lue said. “I know our coaching staff, we always just tell Pat Pat ‘just add water,’ because he is always ready. Whenever you call, he always seems to come through for you.”

Since a 51-point loss to Dallas in the season’s third game, the Clippers’ bench ranks 12th in point differential and first in three-point shooting at nearly 48%. Yet they also rank next to last in steals during that 11-game span and in the league’s bottom third in defensive rebounding as well.

Even if the threat of Williams’ jumper is gone Wednesday, the Clippers (10-4) might still have plenty of opportunities to score. Since starting 3-1, the Kings are 3-7 in their last 10 games and have allowed at least 120 points in nine of those last 10. The Kings own the league’s worst defensive rating and have allowed opponents to shoot the league’s highest percentages overall and from deep.

That could bode well for Luke Kennard, the reserve guard whom the Clippers want to play more aggressively on offense. Told he was attempting a career-low number of free throws this season — just 10 in 323 minutes — Kennard didn’t need to be reminded.

“It’s definitely something that I’ve thought about,” he said.

Kennard said the team’s focus was on improving its pace, which ranks third slowest in the NBA. A key factor in playing faster is getting more stops, something the Clippers’ bench has struggled to do consistently.

“We want to play a little faster, so that starts with plays, guys like me, running the floor, getting to the corner, spacing the floor out,” Kennard said. “And that leads to open shots.”

UP NEXT

VS SACRAMENTO

When: 7 p.m., Wednesday

On the air: TV: Prime Ticket; Radio: 570, 1330

Update: Kings guard De’Aaron Fox is coming off a career-high 43-point, 13-assist performance Sunday in a loss to New Orleans. … The good news for Sacramento is that only Washington has attempted more free throws per game than their 26.4 this season. Now, the bad: They’ve done little with those free opportunities to score. The Kings are making just 72.9% of those shots, the league’s fifth-lowest percentage.