|Nov. 26, 2007 - 7:30 PM|
|Sam Cassell||PG||Rafer Alston|
|Cuttino Mobley||SG||Tracy McGrady|
|Quinton Ross||SF||Shane Battier|
|Tim Thomas||PF||Chuck Hayes|
|Chris Kaman||C||Yao Ming|
The Clippers have lost two in a row three times this season. But they have yet to lose three straight. Now would be a really good time to snap their latest two game slide, with a tough game in Denver coming up next. There's a good chance that the Clippers will be at "full" strength for the first time in awhile as Corey Maggette and Brevin Knight are both expected to play tonight. (Of course, "full" in this case being a euphemism for playing without your best player, another lottery pick, and with several of your other top players limited by various injuries.) The Rockets meanwhile just snapped a six game losing streak of their own with a win Saturday over the Nuggets. Tracey McGrady missed all or part of three of the losses in the streak, but appears to be all the way back after scoring 35 against Denver. Both teams are at .500, so the winner gets a winning record, and the loser gets a losing record. The Clippers are 4-3 at home - they can ill-afford to drop to .500 in Staples with a road-heavy schedule on the horizon.
The Rockets were widely predicted to be joining the Western Conference elite this season. Indeed that looked to be the case when they opened the season winning 6 of 7. But a tough stretch in the schedule (consecutive games against the Spurs, Suns and Mavs) and TMac's injury brought them back to earth. Still, on paper, they are impressive. For several seasons they've been tough when TMac and Yao are healthy. This off-season, they appeared to shore up their two weaker positions, point guard (adding Mike James) and power forward (Luis Scola). With TMac averaging over 25 (third best in the NBA) and Yao over 22 (13th), they have one of the best 1-2 punches in basketball. And everyone seems happier under new coach Rick Adelman. Still, 7-7 is not where they wanted to be at this point, even with McGrady missing a few games.
- Size XXXXL. Chris Kaman has always struggled against really big centers. Probably the fourth biggest starting center in the NBA, he's had little or no success against the three biggest - Ilgauskas, Shaq and Yao. In 13 career matchups, Yao has outscored Kaman 19.6 to 8.2, and outrebounded him 10.4 to 5.5. And that's including the game last season where Yao hurt his knee and played 6 minutes. There was a glimmer of hope last March when Kaman outscored Yao 16-14 in Houston. But he followed that up two weeks later with another dud - 4-24. It's a new Kaman this season, but this is literally his biggest challenge so far.
- The other matchups. If Kaman can hold his own with Yao, the Clippers match up with the rest of the Rockets pretty well. McGrady is the kind of high-powered wing that Quinton Ross and Cuttino Mobley have had good success defending. The point guards are not the focal point of the Rockets offense, so Sam Cassell is less exposed defensively (though Alston had some good games against the Clippers last season, and Mike James has hurt them in the past as well). McGrady penetration, followed by kick outs for three pointers from Shane Battier and Luther Head, was the difference in each of the March meetings last season. So the plan should be, do your best on McGrady, and stay home on the shooters. Easier said than done.
- The walking wounded. Leading scorer Maggette is expected to play tonight after missing the last four games with a strained hamstring. Considering that the original estimate was for him to miss 2 to 3 weeks, and it's been 10 days, it's probable he'll be less than 100%. Cat Mobley on the other hand played 46 minutes on his supposedly still tender strained adductor Saturday night. Does 46 minutes mean he's fully healed? Or will he suffer some consequences of those extended minutes? The Clippers started the season 4-0 with Mobley and Maggette at full strength. They are 2-6 since these injuries started.
- Tim Thomas, power forward. After having a solid effort game against the Hornets (13 points and 12 rebounds, not lit up by David West), Thomas will face two very different power forwards tonight. Chuck Hayes starts and plays 22 minutes, and he's there to do one thing - rebound. Consequently, Thomas has to do one thing against him - box out. 27 year old Argentine rookie Scola plays the bulk of the other minutes, and after an initial learning curve, he has scored 20 points in 3 of the Rockets last 5 games. He is clever around the basket, with fantastic footwork and a variety of post moves. Thomas will have to remain patient and focused defending him - not really Tim's strong points on that end.
- Are the Rockets for real? I was one of those guys predicting great things for the Rockets this season. They certainly made aggressive moves in the off-season to shore up some of their weaknesses. But despite the additions of James, Steve Francis and Aaron Brooks, Alston remains the starter at point guard. Likewise, even with the addition of the coveted Scola, the incredibly limited Hayes is starting at the 4. So have they done anything more than shore up their bench? And maybe Juwan Howard was more valuable to them than people realize. Bonzi Wells (reunited with Adelman), James, Francis and Scola were all expected to make major contributions this season - but so far, it remains pretty much the Yao and TMac show.