Clippers Vs. Rockets - Game Preview - Fighting to Stay in the Playoffs Now

Mar 4, 2012; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets head coach Kevin McHale reacts against the Los Angeles Clippers in the fourth quarter at the Toyota Center. The Clippers defeated the Rockets 105-103 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-US PRESSWIRE
2011/2012 NBA Regular Season
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vs.
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24-18

24-20
STAPLES Center
March 17th, 2012, 12:30 PM
FSN Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM
Probable starters:
Chris Paul
PG Goran Dragic
Randy Foye SG Kevin Martin
Caron Butler
SF Chandler Parsons
Blake Griffin
PF Luis Scola
DeAndre Jordan
C Samuel Dalembert

The Back Story:

The Big Picture:

The Clippers can't seem to break out of their slump. After a decent looking win over the Hawks on Wednesday, the Clippers suffered arguably their worst defeat of the season on Thursday when they lost to a Suns team playing without Steve Nash or Grant Hill. It was inarguably their worst worst quarter of the season when they blew a 12 point lead and were outscored 27-12 by the Suns in the fourth quarter. The Clippers had a closed door team meeting after that defeat and kept the media covering the team waiting for more than an hour. Will it help? We'll start to find out today. The Clippers played reasonably well against the Suns -- except the last couple minutes of the first half and the last 11 minutes of the game, when they were completely lifeless. The current struggles began exactly four weeks ago, when the Clippers gave away a game they had won in the final seconds against San Antonio. Since then, they are 5-9 overall and 2-4 at home. That was a Saturday afternoon game as well, and at the time, the Clippers were playing for second place in the Western Conference. Today, they are playing for something different -- if the Clippers lose, they could find themselves essentially tied for eighth. If the team doesn't feel a sense of urgency soon, it's going to be too late.

The Antagonist:

The Rockets remain in the thick of the playoff race seemingly against the odds. Their off-season plans were scuttled when David Stern vetoed the three team deal they had to acquire Pau Gasol of the Lakers. They have a roster without a single player who has ever made an All-Star team. And they fired the coach who many thought had kept them performing above expectations in the first place. Yet they keep winning enough to be in the playoff picture. Lately they've been doing it without their best player, Kyle Lowry, who has missed the last four games with a bacterial infection and is expected to be out for several more weeks. All the Rockets did was win three of those four. Tuesday night they beat the Thunder in Oklahoma City while playing without their entire starting backcourt, as Kevin Martin also missed the game with a strained shoulder. However, the Rockets have NOT been able to figure out the Clippers so far this season, losing in the first two meetings. The Clippers blew them out in LA in one of the most impressive performances of the season, and then held on for an overtime victory in Houston two weeks ago. Houston could be severely short-handed in this game -- Lowry is out for sure, they just traded away three players and haven't gotten the incoming bodies yet, they waived Terrence Williams, and Martin and Courtney Lee (who dislocated a finger on Wednesday) are both questionable. Unless they sign someone to a 10 day contract today, the Rockets will be somewhere between 8 and 10 healthy players for this game.

The Subplots

  • Tonight's Special Guest Recapper - Citizen John Raffo.
  • Questionable Blogger. We may or may not get an edition of Questionable Blogger posted before game time. Between trade deadlines and March Madness, we ran a little short on time, but keep checking.
  • Key Rockets Metrics
    Pace: 92.0 (11th of 30 of 30 NBA Teams)
    Off Rtg: 105.3 (9th of 30)
    Def Rtg: 105.0 (17th of 30)
  • Key Clippers Metrics
    Pace: 89.4 (28th of 30)
    Off Rtg: 108.1 (5th of 30)
    Def Rtg: 105.9 (21st of 30)
    This topic is deserving of it's own post, but why in the world don't the Clippers run more? 28th in the league in pace? Are you kidding me? Is that because Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are great half court players? Um, newsflash, they're not. Instead, they are the most athletic pair of bigs in the league, and yet the Clippers are playing at the third slowest pace. How does that make any sense? And they're getting slower. Just two weeks ago when these teams played, LA was 24th in the league in pace.
  • West Standings. With a win the Clippers will be by themselves in fourth place in the West. A loss drops them to sixth -- possibly just percentage points out of a tie for eighth. That's how close it is.
  • Chris Paul. I have no idea what happened to Chris Paul Thursday night, but the Clippers will not thrive when he is as passive and ineffective as he was against Phoenix.
  • Rockets trades. I'm not sure I understand what the Rockets' strategy was at the trade deadline. They acquired a couple of 37 year olds, Marcus Camby and Derek Fisher. Camby they got for his basketball ability -- Fisher because his nasty contract came wrapped in a shiny new first round pick (Dallas' 2012 pick). They didn't give up a ton -- Hasheem Thabeet and Jonny Flynn and a second round pick for Camby, Jordan Hill for Fisher -- but still, what's the plan? Do they think Camby is the last piece to a championship puzzle? If not, why trade for him? He's 37 and in the final year of his current contract. Why not just wait and try to sign him as a free agent? The Fisher trade was opportunistic and netted them a first round pick -- but is that Dallas pick that likely to be significantly better than Jordan Hill? None of this matters for today's game, since Camby won't be in uniform yet.
  • Suns, Rockets. The last time the Clippers lost to the Suns, they played the Rockets two days later and won. Hopefully that pattern continues this afternoon.
  • Rocket Guards. The Rockets could be dangerously thin in the backcourt tonight. After trading Flynn, Goran Dragic is the only healthy point guard on the roster while Lowry is in the hospital. Kevin Martin and Courtney Lee are the shooting guards, but both of them are banged up and could conceivably miss the game (though I suspect they'll both play). They waived Terrence Williams, and Fisher may never suit up for them -- he hadn't shown up in Houston as of Friday, and they would almost certainly buy him out if Lowry were healthy at any rate. Because of their current point guard situation, the Rockets have apparently reached out to veteran Anthony Carter. Dragic may have to play 48 minutes today, unless Carter is available immediately and in game shape. I'd think they'd be wise to look in the D-League for some 10 day point guard help.
  • Rocket Guards, continued. The lack of backcourt depth is an issue for the Rockets today -- but it could prove to be a different kind of issue for the Clippers. The Clippers acquired Nick Young to compensate for their very small backcourt -- but Young won't be playing for a couple days yet. As of now, Dragic is the only healthy player on the Houston roster under 6'5" -- under 6'7" if Lee can't play. When the Clippers are playing two small guards, one of them might be defending the 6'7" Chase Budinger, or maybe even the 6'9" Chandler Parsons. Martin also is 6'7", but he's never been a post up threat. Regardless, it's clear that the Clippers will be giving away of ton of size when Mo Williams is on the floor. Of course LA will have the quickness advantage on the other end.
  • Zone. If Houston, or any other NBA team for that matter, was watching the Clippers struggle in the fourth quarter on Thursday, they might very well decide to play some zone defense tonight. The Clippers were completely useless against the Phoenix zone on Thursday -- and it's not as if the zone was that great. LA just showed no clue as to how to attack it. During one sequence with the telestrater, Michael Smith was attempting to show what the zone was doing to stop the Clippers, but basically it didn't do much -- it was just the ineptitude of the LA offense that resulted in a steal.
  • Dwelling on the past. I know I'm talking a lot about the Phoenix game; I guess I'm having a hard time getting over it. Prior to Thursday, Phoenix was 0-3 playing without Steve Nash. They lost those three games by an average of 16 points. The closest they came to winning was a seven point loss -- to New Jersey -- at home. Losing to a Phoenix team without Nash is inexcusable. The Clippers have kind of done it twice this season, considering how poorly Nash played in the first meeting. OK, I'm done.
  • Budinger. They'll have little choice but to play him tonight given their lack of available bodies, but Kevin McHale has been playing yo-yo with Chase Budinger's minutes this season. When these two teams played two weeks ago, Budinger got a DNP-CD; part of a series of 5 DNPs in 9 games. But it looks like Terrence Williams then fell out of favor (and has since been waived) so Budinger is now back in the rotation. I'm not sure why he was out -- he always looks good against the Clippers.
  • Parsons. The Rockets felt they got a steal back in 2009 when they drafted Chase Budinger in the second round and he became their starting small forward after they traded away Shane Battier last year. Well, they now have another second round pick, this time from 2011, who has replaced Budinger in the starting lineup.
  • No Stars. The Rockets are one of those teams with no real stars. I've long felt that Kevin Martin has been underrated, but the simple fact is that no one on the Rockets roster has ever made an All Star team. Of course, it was only a few years ago that the Rockets were built around two mega-stars, Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady. But injuries to both of them derailed that plan in Houston, and now the team is of necessity built around depth and team play rather than superstars.
  • 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.
  • Nene. It's also interesting to note that Nene was the intended free agent acquisition Houston wanted to put next to Pau. It didn't take Denver long to regret paying him all that money. (Who had three months in the office pool for "How long before Denver realizes they made a mistake with Nene"?)
  • Goodbye 2009 draft busts. Until Thursday, the Rockets had a strange treasure trove of 2009 draft picks: 4 of the top 11 picks from that draft, Hasheem Thabeet (2nd pick), Jonny Flynn (6th), Jordan Hill (8th) and Terrence Williams (11th). And more quickly than they arrived, the are now all gone. In a single day Thursday, Thabeet, Flynn and Hill were traded and Williams was waived. It's all a little weird if you ask me. It's like a kid who one day loves Beanie Babies, and the next day gets rid of all of them.
  • From the Urban Dictionary:

    rocket

    n. A stupid person. Sarcastic reference to someone being a rocket scientist.


    That guy is a real rocket.
  • Get the Rockets perspective at The Dream Shake.
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