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Clippers at Houston - Game Preview

2009/2010 NBA Regular Season
Toyota Center
December 22nd, 2009, 5:30 PM
Prime Ticket, 980 AM
Probable starters:
Baron Davis
PG Aaron Brooks
Eric Gordon
SG Shane Battier
Al Thornton SF Trevor Ariza
Marcus Camby
PF Luis Scola
Chris Kaman
C Chuck Hayes



The Back Story:

December 2nd in LA - Houston 102 - Clippers 85 -  Recap  Box Score

The Big Picture:

The Clippers are now 2 and 2 on the first four games of their six game road trip.  They've alternated wins and losses thus far, so since they lost in San Antonio last night, they're due for a win in Houston, right?  On paper, this appears to be the most winnable of these last three wins.  Then again, on paper, the Rockets shouldn't have a better record than the Spurs, but they do.  Ignoring what happens in the alternate basketball dimension that is the AT&T Center, the Clippers have played well offensively on this trip.  But if they're going to beat the Rockets in Houston, they'll have to do it with defense.  When they played Houston in LA, the Rockets put on a three point shooting display, making 12 of 23 compared to 1 of 14 for LAC.  That's a bit of a difference.  Of course, the Clippers didn't have Eric Gordon in that game, and Rasual Butler was mired in a slump that he appears to have busted out of, so they should at least be capable of making a few threes in this one.  Whether they can defend the Rockets remains to be seen.  It would also be nice to see Chris Kaman, who has played really well in his last six games can redeem himself for a 5 for 16, 5 rebound, 4 turnover game in the first meeting.  The bottom line is - without Gordon and with Kaman causing more harm than good, the Clippers aren't going to beat anybody, whether they make 12 threes or not.  If Gordon and Kaman play well in this one, it should at least be competitive.  I hope that the Clippers feel they have something to prove after being blown out by the Rockets in LA, and being blown out in San Antonio last night.  The only good news about last night's blowout loss is that all the starters took the fourth quarter off, which will help on the second game of a back to back.

The Antagonist:

I thought the Rockets were overachieving when the teams met at the beginning of December and Houston was 9-8 at the time.  I'm at a loss for what's happening now that they're 16-11.  I mean, this has always been a league predicated on pure, unadulterated talent.  Princeton running backcuts and beating UCLA in the NCAA tournament, Valparaiso making threes and beating xxxx, George Washington - that's all well and good in college hoops.  In fact, it's great.  I love it.  I root for the Clippers, so of course I love an underdog story.  But in the NBA, talent wins.  And the Rockets don't seem to have enough talent to be 16-11.  In a league of superstar power, there's nary a star, let alone a super one, on their active roster (ignoring Tracy McGrady, who is back on the court, but severely limited in his minutes right now).  Part of me would love to believe in the Rockets - I'd love for team play and hard work to be enough, as it would give more of the underdog teams a chance.  But at the same time, it makes the failings of the Clippers over the years that much more painful.  It's easier to rationalize all the losing if the team has simply not had elite level talent.  "We'll get them next year!  We'll win the lottery and we'll have enough talent then!"  But if you could be winning simply by identifying the right pieces in the second round and getting them to play hard?  Well, that's a bitter realization.  And frankly, I'm not ready to accept it quite yet.  So part of me wants the Rockets to continue to do well; and another part of me believes (wants to believe?) that they're eventually going to come back down to earth.  By the way, may be missing two key reserves in this game.  Chase Budinger is out with a sprained ankle.  Meanwhile, Carl Landry recently had oral surgery after losing five (FIVE!) teeth in a gruesome meeting with Dirk Nowitzki's elbow on Friday.  Incredibly, Landry says he'll play tonight.

The Subplots:

  • Landry.  Last game, Luis Scola has a cut over his eye, and everyone said he'd be out against the Clippers, but he played and played well.  Landry was back at Rockets practice on Monday, and I have to figure he's going to play.  After all, this is the guy who was shot in the leg last season and barely missed any time.  The dude is tough.  If you haven't seen the video of the collision with Dirk, check it out.  The most amazing part to me is Landry's reaction.  Bear in mind, he just lost five teeth.  He heads over to the Rockets bench and calmly signals that he needs to come out of the game, as if to say "Excuse me, Mr. Adelman, sir, you might consider placing a substitute in the game for me as I am losing a lot of blood at the moment." When he gets to the bench, he starts spitting teeth and blood into Keith Jones' towel.  Unbelievable how tough this guy is.  He'll probably destroy the Clippers tonight.
  • McGrady.  The Rockets finally activated TMac when Trevor Ariza was suspended a week ago for the Rockets game against Detroit.  He's on severely restricted minutes right now - he's played fewer than 8 in each of his four games back.  Will Adelman be tempted to dial that up some with Budinger out?
  • Steal a road game.  If the Clippers are going to keep their slim playoff hopes alive even until Blake Griffin's return, they're going to have to beat some good teams.  If they lose tonight in Houston and Christmas Day in Phoenix, they'll drop five games below .500, as low as they've been this season.  It's pretty important to get one of these, and this one seems like the easier of the two.
  • Just enough to win.  How are the Rockets getting it done this year?  Are they an offensive team, or a defensive team?  The answer is, a little bit of both.  League wide, teams score 106.6 points per 100 possessions.  The Rockets score a little more than that on offense (107.7, 16th best out of 30 NBA teams) and give up a little less than that on defense (105.9, 15th in the league).  Lacking a lot of guys who can create shots, they play at a fast pace, and look for shots in transition.  They love to shot transition threes, so it will be important for the Clippers to find their shooters right away.
  • Rebounding.  The Rockets aren't a great shooting club, yet they're above average in offensive efficiency.  One big reason is because they get a lot of extra shots.  They're the fourth best offensive rebounding team in the league.  One key will be keeping them off the offensive glass.
  • Kaman and Baron size advantages.  In the first game, we expected both Chris Kaman and Baron Davis to exploit their size advantages in the post against significantly smaller defenders in Chuck Hayes and Aaron Brooks.  It didn't happen.  In Kaman's case, because Hayes is just crazy strong and wouldn't let him go where he wanted to. In Baron's case, because the Clippers just didn't go to him in the post.  They went to it against Tony Parker last night, so I assume they'll go to it tonight.  As for Kaman, he's longer and quicker than Hayes.  He may need to face him up, and he could have a big night if the jump shot is on.
  • Defending the three.  The Rockets are third in the NBA in three point attempts.  The Clippers are 6th best in defensive three point percentage.  Of course, those facts were more or less the same in the last meeting and the Rockets made 12 of 23.  But Houston has trouble winning without making threes.  The Rockets are 11 and 4 if they make 8 or more threes in a game - 5 and 7 if they make fewer than 8.
  • Speaking of threes.  I've already mentioned that the Rockets made 12 threes to the Clippers 1 in the first meeting.  12 is tied for the season high for the Rockets - 1 is the season low for the Clippers.  Odds are, that won't repeat itself, right?
  • Ariza.  Trevor Ariza continues to shoot under 40% from the field on the season.  In fact, Houston's top two scorers, Brooks (43%) and Ariza (39%) are inefficient.  How are these guys 16 and 11 again? 
  • Movie Quote: 

    If you wanna know how to build a rocket to fly a man into outer space, don't come to me. If you need somebody to perform a delicate brain operation, I'm not your man. However if you have any questions what so ever on the quality of a good pair of pants, look no further!

    North's Dad, North (1994). I include this quote not because North was a good movie, but because it was a bad movie.  Director Rob Reiner had a perfect game going when he directed North in 1994.  Spinal Tap, Sure Thing, Stand By Me, Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally, Misery, A Few Good Men.  He couldn't miss.  And then came North.  Reiner's movies have been hit and miss since.
  • Get the Rockets perspective at The Dream Shake.