We're getting to a very finite portion of the season. A dozen games left for the Clippers - six at home and six on the road. Almost every game is the last one of some type or another. Tonight's game against the Rockets is one of only three games left against the really top teams, the teams with winning percentages over .600. The other two are both on the road, so this is the last chance for a home win against a top team. It's a measuring stick game - a chance to really solidify that feeling of 'We're back and we're for real' that has been building for a couple of weeks.
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Elton Brand seemed to present particular problems for Houston in the last game, when he went for a season-high 37 points including the dunk of the year. They don't want to play Yao on him all game because he'll get into foul trouble and wear down. But Elton was destroying Chuck Hayes and Juwan Howard in Houston, forcing JVG to make the switch. Yao's length can certainly bother Elton, but Elton can drive around him if he gets to close on the up fake (as evidenced by the aforementioned dunk). It'll be interesting to see how the Rockets handle it if EB gets off to a hot start.
Chris Kaman has never played well against Houston until this season. He's averaged 17 points and 10 rebounds in the three meetings this year, far above his season averages. He's also coming off his most impressive half of the season, where he scored 17 points and grabbed 8 rebounds in the second half alone against the Wizards. This would be a really great game to keep that run going.
The tough Van Gundy defense of this team wreaks havoc on Corey Maggette's game - Corey had five turnovers including two offensive fouls in the last meeting. Shane Battier is one of the most tenacious defenders in the league, and all of the Rockets are well-versed at stepping in front of drivers to draw the charge. More than usual, the new, patient, under-control Corey needs to show up for this game.
But Battier can't guard both Corey AND Cat Mobley. Cat's been on a scoring tear and the Clippers will need his scoring tonight.
Of course, on the other end, the Clippers will have to contain McGrady and Yao, while also staying home of the three point shooters like Battier, Alston and Head. It's not an easy task, which is why the Rockets have one of the most dangerous teams in the league when both Yao and TMac are healthy. It certainly doesn't help the Clippers cause that Houston is in a struggle with Utah for the fourth seed in the playoffs - whoever gets that seed will get home court advantage in their first round playoff matchup (that's correct - the first round in the West features significantly better teams than the Finals in the East).
A win makes it five in a row (tied for the season-high win streak) and brings them back to within a game of .500. A defeat is an opportunity lost. It's a chance to show that they can play with a good team and a chance to avenge a difficult road loss.
Revenge is a dish best served cold. And maybe with a sprig of rosemary as a garnish and a little crumbled bleu cheese.
Special Note: The Clipper Spirit are up against the Houston Rocket Power Dancers in a vote on NBA.com today as well. Those Power Dancers are a little scary. I'm frightened for our poor Clipper Spirit. Go over to NBA.com and vote and help 'em out.