SACRAMENTO, Calif.--This whole Sacramento-Los Angeles thing is quite contentious again.
This time, it's not a title-contending Kings team trying to dethrone the Lakers. Rather, it's the rebuilding Kings looking to make a statement against the defending Pacific Division champion and NBA championship-contending Clippers.
The Kings didn't back down when tempers picked up, but it was Sacramento's inability to defend that ultimately cost it in a 110-101 loss to the Clippers on Friday night at Sleep Train Arena.
The Clippers shot 50 percent for the game, including 12 of 24 on 3-pointers.
The Kings fell behind by 15 in the third quarter, when the Clippers took advantage of all the open looks the defense was surrendering.
"They scored so easily on us," Kings coach Michael Malone said of the third quarter. "Uncontested jump shot after uncontested jump shot. We got back in the game when we finally started making people feel us out there, when we put bodies on them and made them take contested shots."
The Kings pulled within 79-77 to end the third but gave up 31 points in the fourth quarter, when Malone wants to hold opponents to 20 or fewer.
The game had several moments where it was obvious the teams don't like each other.
DeMarcus Cousins found himself tangled up on the floor with Clippers guard Chris Paul with Cousins' headband flying off.
Paul chirped at Cousins during dead balls. Paul yapped so much Cousins even walked away and sat on the floor away from Paul during an official review.
"Anytime we play a division rival it's going to be a hotly contested game, especially early in the year," Malone said. "We're not going to give up anything. We're not going to concede anything to these guys. I'm not sure if they were baiting our guys, but we're going to ask all our guys to have poise and handle adversity and not give into situations where they may be trying to bait us. We just have to have great mental toughness."
Isaiah Thomas was tangled up with Blake Griffin and picked up a technical foul in the third. Cousins stepped in as the peacemaker when Griffin scowled and stalked Thomas, who had his back turned.
Matt Barnes picked up a flagrant foul in the third quarter when he hit Jason Thompson across the head trying to block a shot.
Barnes, the Sacramento native, reveled in the jeers from Kings fans, staring down fans courtside before encouraging them to heckle him.
Cousins blocked a Paul layup in the fourth and drew a technical for taunting. Paul then repeatedly pointed to his temple, reminding the Kings' bench Cousins needed to think better. Cousins said he wasn't taunting, rather trying to get the crowd involved in the game, adding he knows Paul was trying to bait him into situations all night.
"You know who the head of that snake is and you know what he does," Cousins said. "That's what it is."
It's not as if the tension between the two squads hasn't been building over the last couple of seasons.
Two seasons ago, Cousins called Griffin an "actor" for his attempts to draw fouls. Last season, Cousins was furious with Paul for drawing a foul by pretending he'd been hit by Cousins and flailing his arms.
Paul was later assessed a flopping warning by the NBA for the play.
"I don't really have to speak on it -- you all know what he does," Cousins said of Paul on Friday night. "It's obvious."
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