Double-header at Staples Center Saturday

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Saturday was a busy day at Staples Center, hosting a double-header: first the Toronto Raptors vs the L.A. Clippers and then the San Jose Sharks vs the L.A. Kings. The crew can actually take down a basketball court and rig Staples for ice hockey in just a few hours.

On Christmas Day the L.A. Clippers beat the Golden State Warriors, here at Staples Center. The Clippers finished the game 14 points ahead of the team that had the best record in the NBA. Head coach Doc Rivers said his team was “getting close” to playing up to championship level.

On Saturday the Toronto Raptors come to Staples, another team with a great record, 22-7, going into the game. Both teams are playing well right now and the Raptors have won seven of their last ten games. Toronto is coming off a loss to the Chicago Bulls, but they haven’t lost back-to-back games since the end of November, the only time this season they have lost two in a row.

The Clippers have had a tougher December, winning nine of the 14 games they’ve played since defeating the Utah Jazz November 29. Despite the five losses since December 12, the Clippers are still playing at a high level, especially on defense.

The Raptors might be happy to be out of the cold north, but they found L.A. to be a hot destinationTwo elite NBA teams met at Staples and it was a close game.

It started with some tough defense. Thirty-one seconds ticked off the clock before a basket was scored by Kyle Lowry, when he sunk a 26-foot three pointer for the Toronto Raptors. Both teams would score more than 20 points in the quarter, 22 for the Raptors and 26 for the L.A. Clippers and the game stayed that close for the entire 28 minutes of the half. When the buzzer sounded the score was tied at 49 apiece.

The second half was all the Raptors. They scored 61, their deep bench adding more than half of those points and in the fourth quarter Toronto dominated the game, scoring 30 points to L.A.’s 20.

The Clippers looked flat in the second half. They stayed close enough to win, but never took the game away from the Raptors. Their fourth quarter melt down can be summed up by these two facts: only three of their starters scored and none of the Clippers made it to the free throw line.

The numbers for the Clippers looked good, J.J. Redick led the scoring for the Clippers, with 23 points and Blake Griffin added 22, Jamal Crawford got 20 and Chris Paul 10, but the rest of the team could only manage another 23 points in the game. DeAndre Jordan grabbed 20 rebounds.

Blake Griffin at the post-game press conference
Blake Griffin at the post-game press conference

The Raptors had eight players score in the fourth, including two free throws by Jonas Valanciunas

It was obvious The L.A. defense broke down in that final 12 minutes, which prevented them from playing their fast game.

Plus, the Clippers played Christmas Day and the Raptors didn’t, and some of the Clippers suggested Toronto was more rested than L.A. Maybe that had something to do with the flat performance by the Clippers, but it was clear the Raptors stayed focused on winning for 48 minutes and the Clippers didn’t. Kyle Lowry led all scoring with 25 for the Raptors, Jonas Valanciunas got 22 and Greivis Vasquez scored 11.

The Clippers will meet the Utah Jazz at Staples Center tomorrow at 7 p.m.

•••• •••• ••••• •••• ••••

Kings-Ice1As we were getting ready for the second part of this double header the arena crew spent about two hours taking down the basketball court and building the L.A. Kings hockey rink.

For the L.A. Kings, Saturday’s game against the San Jose Sharks was a record-setting win. Both Anze Kopitar and Jake Muzzin scored power play goals, the fifth game in a row they have scored on the power play. It was the fourth consecutive game the Kings scored multiple power play goals and it hadn’t been done since 1993.

The game started with a quick goal by Sharks center Joe Pavelski, but after that it was all the Kings.

It was a big win for the Kings. Beating this division rival, the San Jose Sharks, moved L.A. into second place in the division.

As improved as the Kings were, the Sharks were having some problems staying out of the penalty box, giving the Kings more power play opportunities. That was one of the big differences in the game. The top reason for the Kings win tonight though was their control of the puck, a return to their championship form.

Goalie Jonathan Quick made 21 saves, allowing just the first period goal into his net. Tyler Toffoli scored his first goal since December 2, fourteen minutes into the first period to even up the game. He is now tied with Marian Gaborik and Tanner Pearson with 11 goals for the season, leading the Kings in scoring.

After the game Sharks head coach Todd McLellan said, “They were the better team the whole night. Obviously we were beat in special teams, and that was evident, but there’s much more to it than that. The grinding part of the game, we were beaten at as well. They were better on the walls. They were better at taking time and space away, and their forecheck was better. So there’s no doubt the better team won tonight.”

Anze Kopitar
Anze Kopitar

The Kings need to beat division rivals to move up in the standings, and with Saturday’s win the Kings moved into third place in the Pacific Division, behind the Anaheim Ducks and the Vancouver Canucks, who play the Sharks Tuesday and the Kings Thursday. This division is tight right now and every win and loss can change the standings and power rankings.

That makes 14 wins at home for the Kings, tied with Tamp Bay Lightening and the Toronto Maple Leafs for home wins this season. Kings fans can expect their team to win when they take the ice at Staples.

The Kings play the Calgary Flames tomorrow in Calgary.

(All photos by Claudia Gestro)