Clippers vs. Houston - Game Preview

2011/2012 NBA Regular Season
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vs.
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2-2

2-3
Staples Center
January 4th, 2012, 7:30 PM
Fox Sports West, NBA-TV, KFWB 980 AM
Probable starters:
Chris Paul
PG Kyle Lowry
Chauncey Billups SG Kevin Martin
Caron Butler
SF Chase Budinger
Blake Griffin
PF Luis Scola
DeAndre Jordan
C Jordan Hill

The Back Story:

First meeting of the season. Houston won the season series last year 3 games to 1.

The Big Picture:

The Clippers are 2-2 on the young season, and the key has been the defense. In their two losses, the Clippers allowed Chicago and San Antonio to shoot better than 53% from the field. In wins over Golden State and Portland, the opposition made just over 40% of their shots. Overall, the Clippers defense is among the worst in the NBA right now in terms of points allowed per 100 possessions. The win over Portland was a step in the right direction, as the defense was much improved. Chauncey Billups should return to the Clippers starting lineup tonight after missing a couple of games with a sore groin muscle. It's also possible that Solomon Jones, signed on Tuesday, will see a few minutes of action.

The Antagonist:

The Rockets don't scare me nearly as much this season as they have in the past. They've always overachieved, particularly when Yao Ming and Tracey McGrady were hurt and no one expected anything from them. But those teams were coached by Rick Adelman, and he just had a knack for getting the most out of his personnel. I certainly don't feel the same way about Kevin McHale. This is much the same Rockets team that barely missed the playoffs last season, but the losses of Adelman and under-rated/sized center Chuck Hayes will have an impact.

The Subplots

  • Rockets on a back-to-back. The Rockets are on the second game of a road back-to-back, but it is the easiest road back-to-back in the league. Houston lost to the Lakers last night, and will play the Clippers in the same building tonight. So it's not like they had to travel.
  • Rockets off-season mission aborted. The Rockets tried to make some big, bold moves this summer (or rather fall/winter). They were a partner in the near-trade of Chris Paul to the Lakers, a deal that would have landed Pau Gasol in Houston. When the deal was scuttled by the league, it threw a wrench into Houston's plan to clear cap space to pursue a marquee center. When Nene and Marc Gasol both re-signed with their original teams, the Rockets were left with Samuel Dalembert as their big off-season move - hardly what Daryl Morey had in mind. At least Luis Scola and Kevin Martin didn't sulk their way out of town after the trade they were involved in fell through.Truthfully, I never much liked that trade from Houston's standpoint - maybe it makes sense if you can sign a big time free agent with the extra cap space, but losing Martin and Scola and picks just to acquire a 31 year old Pau seemed like a dubious decision.
  • What compressed schedule? The lockout shortened season will force teams to play with much greater frequency than in a standard season, but you wouldn't know it from the Clippers schedule so far. They have played fewer games than any other team in the league - fully three fewer games than the Lakers or Thunder entering tonight's games. Of course, they're going to pay for the light schedule now later in the season.
  • Topsy-Turvy West. It's hard to get a pulse for what's happening in the Western Conference so early in the season. For instance, Dallas was 1-4 before handing Oklahoma City their first win of the season. Likewise, Houston is hard to figure - they're 2-3, but their two wins have come against Atlanta and San Antonio, two teams that have looked impressive early in the season. It's way too early in the season to worry about such things, but with a win tonight the Rockets could find themselves in first place in the Southwest Division, while with a loss they could be in last.
  • Kevin Martin. So far, KMart has been a pretty accurate bellwether for the Rockets. In their two wins, he's averaged 26 points per game; in their three losses, he's averaged less than half that. Last night against the Lakers he was a miserable 5 for 17 and 1 for 8 from three - particularly terrible numbers when you consider that Martin is usually one of the most efficient perimeter players in the league.
  • Defending Martin. The Clippers knew that defending bigger guards would be an issue this year with their roster chock full of points and combo guards. In losses to San Antonio and Chicago, defending Manu Ginobili and Rip Hamilton while giving away four or five inches at the position proved to be difficult. Martin likewise is 6'7", but he's never been a post player. So while he may be able to shoot over Billups on the perimeter, there's little worry that he'll exploit his size advantage much around the basket.
  • Kyle Lowry. Lowry (a college teammate of Clipper Randy Foye) had a very unusual game New Year's Eve. He handed out a career high 18 assists while scoring just two points, both on free throws. According to basketball-reference.com, it was the most assists ever for a player who did not make a single field goal.
  • Front court matchups. Against Portland on Sunday, one of the keys to the game was placing DeAndre Jordan on LaMarcus Aldridge. Generally, the Clippers will likely be wise to put Jordan on the opponent's highest scoring big, but I'm not sure that's the best strategy tonight. Luis Scola has every trick shot in the book, and will look to get Jordan to bite on pump fakes and other sleight of hand. It might be better to leave Blake Griffin on Scola, since unlike Aldridge, Scola doesn't have the length to shoot over Blake.
  • Courtney Lee. If you were watching the Rockets loss to the Lakers last night, you may have seen Lee pull up with an injury in the fourth quarter. The injury occurred on a non-contact play, and looked to me like a ruptured achilles (having suffered that injury myself). Fortunately for Lee, it turned out to be a strained calf. It's unclear what his status is for this game.
  • Griffin and the Rockets. No Western Conference team defended Blake Griffin more successfully than the Rockets last season. Houston held Griffin to few than 18 points per game, and under 40% shooting, both season lows for any team Griffin faced more than twice. Of course, much of that was due to the stellar defense of Hayes, so it remains to be seen if it translates without their defensive savant. Somehow I get the feeling that Blake knows he struggled some against this team and would like to change that up a bit tonight. Jordan Hill is not Chuck Hayes.
  • First meeting last season. When these teams met in December 2010 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. At the end, Blake Griffin had a chance to tie the game but his three pointer came up short with 3 seconds on the clock.
  • Stockpiling 2009 draft busts. In a bizarre coincidence (or is it?) the Rockets are seemingly stockpiling any and all draft busts from the 2009 draft. Three Four of the top 11 picks from that draft are now with the Rockets. Hasheem Thabeet (2nd pick), Jonny Flynn (6th), Jordan Hill (8th) and Terrence Williams (11th) have all joined the Rockets since the 2010 trade deadline. Ironically, the Rockets other starters are all low picks - Martin was a 26th pick, Scola 27th, Lowry 24th, and Budinger a second rounder. Budinger was in the same draft as his new teammates, Thabeet, Hill and Williams - and was taken over 30 picks later.
  • From the Urban Dictionary:

    rocket

    n. An extremely attractive female


    Holy s***, did you see her? Shes a f***ing rocket!
  • Get the Rockets perspective at The Dream Shake.
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