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Houston 103 - Clippers 96

The Rockets made twice as many three pointers as the Clippers in this game (10 versus 5) and almost three times as many free throws (31 versus 11).  That's a 35 point advantage for Houston in those two categories.  I'm no expert on basketball (although I did once stay at a Holiday Inn Express), but I'm pretty sure you can't win when that happens.

Rafer Alston once again looked like an all star against the Clippers with 21 points, 7 assists and 8 rebounds.  He was 5 for 9 on his three point attempts.  Not bad for a guy shooting 36% from the field on the season and 31% from deep.  If you're looking for telltale signs that the Clippers will lose a game you can start with this one:  when Baron Davis is badly outplayed by an opposition point guard that you're not even sure should be starting in the NBA (think Beno Udrih, Rafer Alston, those kind of guys), then the Clippers are probably not going to win.

It's hard to hold this one against Baron though.  He spent most of the first half in the locker room throwing up after a bout with food poisoning.  He played 34 minutes in the game, and went the distance in the second half, but he clearly didn't have it in this game. 

The bright spots continue to be the Clippers forwards.  Zach Randolph and Al Thorton have combined for 54, 50 and 47 in the last three ball games.  One would think that with that kind of productivity from the forward spots, the Clippers would be winning games.  Unfortunately, the defense has been giving up about 100 points a game in that time as well.

Randolph has an uncannily soft touch.  It's really astounding how many shots he gets up on the rim that just bounce around and eventually fall in.  When he's near the basket, he just gets it up there, and it doesn't have to be a perfect shot, but he somehow gets the ball in the hoop.

Thornton has been outstanding attacking the rim.  It's worth noting that he's had big games recently while being defended by Shawn Marion and now Ron Artest.  Last season, big time defenders tended to take Al right out of the game.  Not tonight.  He took the ball right at Artest, and got the best of him on many occasions.  He finished the game 11 for 20, and while his shot chart shows a few more jump shots, at least the shot was falling tonight.  He's also had very few shots in the last three that have felt forced - not too many of those '17 jab steps and a fallaway' touches.  He's also been rebounding better than at any other time in his career.  He's had 8 or 9 rebounds in each of the last 3 games, and it's no coincidence that the Clippers have been more competitive on the boards in those games.  (They battled Houston to a 47-47 standoff in this one.)

But despite the efforts of the forwards, and despite the fact that the Clippers fought back from 15 down to draw within 1 at the end of the third quarter, this one frankly never really felt much in doubt.  Yao Ming was 6 for 8 from the field and 12 for 13 from the line - 24 points on 8 shots.  And if felt like, with no Chris Kaman for the Clippers, he could score any time he wanted to.  His productivity is even higher when you consider that many if not most of Houston's threes were the result of Clipper double teams on Yao.  It's a boring and predictable but very effective strategy - surround Yao with a bunch of guys who can shoot with range, dump the ball into him and spread the floor.

With Kaman out and Baron hurting, this one would have been a major upset.  It sure would be nice to be 1-1 on this trip right now instead of 0-2.

It gets a lot easier in Memphis on Friday, but of course the Clippers have managed to lose to really bad teams this year as well.