|2010/2011 NBA Regular Season|
|January 26th, 2011, 5:30 PM|
|FSN Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM
The Back Story:
The Big Picture:
As if the looming 11 game road trip (I've dubbed it the Odyssey) wasn't going to be challenging enough, the Clippers found out yesterday that they'll be without Eric Gordon for three to four weeks. The reality of that estimate is that three weeks from today is the last game before the All Star break, and four weeks from yesterday is the first game after the All Star break. So this one's pretty easy - he's supposed to be back after the All Star break. Of course, Chris Kaman was supposed to be back in November, and it's now late January, so you can never really take anything for granted where Clipper injuries are concerned. The truth of the matter is that the Clippers weren't particularly hurt by Gordon's absence in Dallas. After all, he's their leading scorer, but the team managed to score 105 points while shooting 56% against the Mavericks. Still, Baron Davis did seem to be pressing a bit knowing that he had to carry a bigger scoring load; he scored a season-high 21, but also committed a season-high 7 turnovers, contributing to a very bad total of 23 turnovers for the Clippers. Randy Foye had a respectable 15 points on 5 of 9 shooting and 4 assists in Dallas; if he can continue to do anything close to that in Gordon's absence the Clippers will be very pleased. But they won't win on the road (where they are 3-14 on the season) unless they take care of the ball and make their free throws. Blake Griffin banged his elbow on a hard fall after a flagrant foul in Dallas - he's not planning to miss any games because of it, but he was in a lot of pain at the time, and we'll see how it feels today. Fortunately, it's not his shooting elbow, so he'll probably be good to go.
Houston is one of those teams. One of those teams like Portland and Utah that execute their offense precisely, and seem to overachieve and get the most out of their talent. Those teams kill the Clippers. Utah and Portland have both concluded three game sweeps of the LAC already this season, and Houston is 1-0 so far. For whatever reason, if it's a matter of going toe to toe against All Star level talent (whether it's the Lakers or the Heat or the Thunder), the Clippers hold their own very well. But when it comes time to play 48 minutes of focused basketball against a team that isn't going to make a lot of mistakes and is going to run good sets every time down the floor, the Clippers just can't do it. It's like the entire team has attention deficit disorder. If there isn't a mega super star in the other uniform, their minds start to wonder. Oh, by the way, the Rockets have a player who should be on the All Star team, though he probably won't. Kevin Martin is the most efficient high scoring player in the league, with a true shooting percentage of .617. But with all the high profile guards in the Western Conference, there's just no room on the team for Martin. Martin is joined by Luis Scola on the Rockets, himself having an outstanding season.
- Standings. When Eric Gordon went crashing to the floor of Staples Center on Saturday night, the Clippers' hopes of making a playoff push, however dim, probably crashed as well. BUT, if they want to still consider it, they MUST win this game. The Rockets are one of the teams they need to catch in the standings - a mere two games away in the loss column. The difference between a win and a loss head to head is a two game swing in the standings, and possibly three games if tie-breakers come into play.
- Clippers without Gordon. The Clippers are now 0-3 without their leading scorer this season. Then again, they faced some pretty good teams in those games, the Spurs, Hornets and Mavericks. They were 6-14 in the 20 games he missed last year. Of course, they're also missing last season's leading scorer still, not to mention Craig Smith, so the injuries are piling up.
- Happy New Year, Sool and Cookie. I'm going to start referring to Rasual Butler and Brian Cook as the Domestics. Get it? Butler and Cook? Anyhoo, the Domestics got their first game action of 2011 in Dallas last night, Cook because he just returned from an injury, and Butler because Gordon's injury freed up some minutes. They each hit their first shots after long layoffs, which was good. Butler finished 1 for 4, but Cook had a nice game, making 4 of 6 shots including a three. As hesitant as many Clippers seem to be about shooting the ball, it's nice to know that Cook is at least going to fire away with confidence.
- Last meeting. When these teams met in December it was one of the crazier games of the season. The Clippers fell behind big almost immediately, and then went on one of the most entertaining runs of the season, with highlight dunk after highlight dunk. But they could never catch the Rockets. In the final seconds, Blake Griffin had a chance to tie the game but his three pointer came up short with 3 seconds on the clock.
- Since the last meeting. Since the last time these teams meet, the Clippers are 9 and 5, while the Rockets are 7 and 10; Houston is 5 and 9 in January. Of course, all of those Clippers wins came with Eric Gordon in the lineup, and most of them came at home.
- High scoring? The Rockets have given up 100 or more points in 14 of their last 16 games. They are fifth in the league in points allowed and have the sixth worst defensive efficiency rating. Meanwhile, the Clippers have been on a scoring binge, getting 100 or more in 13 of their last 18. So I think we can safely assume that Lawler's Law will be tested tonight.
- Brooks and Lowry. The last time the Clippers and Rockets met, Brooks had just returned from an injury and I assumed it was just a matter of time before he returned to the starting lineup ahead of Kyle Lowry. After all, Brooks was the team's leading scorer for most of last season at 19.6 points per game. Surprisingly, Lowry has remained the starter, and Brooks is filling the instant offense role off the bench. His minutes are down from almost 36 per game last season to 24 this season, in large part because he's just not shooting well. He's making just 37% of his field goals, and only a bit better than 30% of his threes; both are far below his career averages. Lowry for his part has played surprisingly well. He's averaging about as many assists per game as Baron Davis, with a better assist to turnover ratio. He's having easily his most productive pro season in this his fifth year in the league.
- You never know. Lowry of the Rockets and Randy Foye of the Clippers were college teammates at Villanova. Foye was drafted 7th, Lowry 24th. Lowry is averaging career highs across the board, while Foye is averaging career lows. With Eric Gordon out, it would be great if Foye could remind us of why he was once a lottery pick, and possibly outplay his old college buddy tonight.
- Martin versus the Clippers. When Kevin Martin was in Sacramento, he seemed to always play terribly against the Clippers. When he was tearing up the rest of the league, he had games of 1 for 8, 1 for 5, 3 for 9, 5 for 13 and 3 for 11. Of course, those were different Clippers teams and literally a different team for Martin. In his first game against the Clippers as a Rocket last month he scored 28 and made some absolutely incredible shots.
- Martin and the All Star game.
- Three point shooting. The Clippers' defensive statistics have been steadily improving, but they remain in the bottom five in the league in three point percentage allowed. Houston meanwhile is in the top five in three point attempts at 21 per game, and makes 37% of them. Martin, Battier, Brooks, Lowry, Chase Budinger and Courtney Lee will all shoot the three and they can all make it.
- Superstar for one game: Chase Budinger. The kid from Carlsbad always seems to play well against the Clippers.
The final event to himself has been, that as he rose like a rocket, he fell like the stick.
- Get the Rockets perspective at The Dream Shake.