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Clippers vs. Houston - Game Preview and Open Thread

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2008/2009 NBA Regular Season
Lac1_70_medium

vs.
Hou_70_medium

5-17
15-8
Staples Center
December 13th, 2008, 7:00 PM
KTLA Channel 5
Probable starters:
Baron Davis PG Rafer Alston
Eric Gordon SG Tracy McGrady
Al Thornton SF Shane Battier
Zach Randolph PF Luis Scola
Marcus Camby C Yao Ming

The Big Picture:

Unfortunately, the Clippers only get about 20 hours to savor their double overtime victory over the Blazers before tipping off against the Rockets. I know there are websites out there that do Strength of Schedule and RPI calculations for NBA teams - anyone have a link? At any rate, with their third consecutive 15 win team, and knowing the schedule they opened against, it's hard to imagine anyone has played a tougher schedule to this point in the season. 15 of Orlando's first 16 wins came against teams with losing records. The Clippers have only played 6 teams with losing records in 22 games. (They're 2 and 4.) This is their third game against the Rockets this season. Two weeks ago in Houston, the Clippers were within a point heading into the fourth quarter, but gave up the first 6 points to fall behind by 7 and lost by that same margin. So, respectable, but not a win. Which has mostly been the story of the Clippers for the last month. Until last night, that is.

The Antagonist:

Ron Artest is out for this game, resting a sprained ankle. But Tracy McGrady is back from his own injury rest. McGrady almost had a triple double in his first game back, going for 24/10/9 against the Warriors last night. But TMac was terrible in the first meeting between these two teams. Then again, he was being defended by Cat Mobley in that one. It will be interesting to see how Eric Gordon does against him, giving away so much size. Speaking of which, Z-Bo will have to try to handle Yao in the middle, letting Camby roam.

The Subplots

  • Deep positions. The Rockets opened the season without Shane Battier. Then TMac decided to take some time off about the time Battier came back. Artest turned his ankle just before TMac came back. All three of those guys are major talents capable of playing either wing position. So Houston hasn't had their full depth yet this season, but they've been able to field some excellent starting units despite their injuries. The Clippers are in a similar position right now with their bigs. Chris Kaman has missed the last seven games, but with Marcus Camby and Zach Randolph, the front line remains a strength of the Clippers despite Kaman's absence. It remains to be seen how the three fit together when all of them are healthy.
  • Thornton. Al Thornton had a terrific game in Houston, despite being defended by former DPOY Artest, which really surprised me. With Artest out, it doesn't really get any easier for Al - Battier is a great defender in his own right. It may even get tougher for Thornton, since he may have enjoyed a slight quickness advantage against Artest, but that will not be the case against Battier.
  • Skip 2 my Lou. Rafer Alston has a great story - a playground legend, he's probably the only player to go from AND1 mix tapes to the NBA and stick. I don't know of another one. What's interesting is that since arriving in Houston, he's been sort of a workmanlike point guard. Think about it - is Alston the flashiest point guard in the NBA? Not by a long shot. And who would have thought that a playground baller would come into his one while being coached by Jeff Van Gundy? At any rate, he has been killing the Clippers for a couple of seasons now. He's never been a good shooter, but he made 5 threes against LA in Houston last game. We said it last time and it's worth repeating - the Clippers can't win games if Baron Davis doesn't dominate his matchup against second tier point guards. Skip easily won this matchup last time - that can't happen if the Clippers want to win.
    Carlis Scoldry. In the first meeting, Luis Scola and Carl Landry absolutely killed the Clippers. In the second one, Scola was ice cold (2 for 8), though Landry still did his damage (12 points, 8 rebounds). The Clippers have to figure out a way to keep these guys from hurting them. Part of that of course is Yao's impact - Camby will be looking to help on Yao, leaving the power forward unguarded, so the rotations have to be precise.
  • Best. 5-17 Team. Ever. Opposing coaches. Blog readers from other teams. Everyone seems to agree. The Clippers have most of the characteristics of a very good team. The one thing they don't have is the record. A resurgent Club Optimism might point out that with Zach Randolph in the starting lineup, the team is 3 and 4, and a couple of fourth quarter collapses away from being 5 and 2. But they also lost to lowly Memphis, and those collapses certainly weren't very encouraging. At any rate, all the elements are there for the Clippers to put together a run. Houston without Artest tonight, followed by 7 of their next 8 against sub-500 teams (remember, they've only played 6 of the first 22 against teams with losing records). The stars seem to be aligned for a strong stretch, if not a winning streak. They won an unlikely game in Portland last night, they have a home game tonight, and then they have some weaker opponents after that.
  • Superstar for one game. Let's go with Landry to best his earlier season high (set against the Clippers of course) of 20 points.\
  • Get the Rockets perspective at The Dream Shake. Usually rated PG-13.