|2010/2011 NBA Regular Season
|December 22nd, 2010, 7:30 PM
|FSN Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM
The Back Story:
- First meeting of the season - Rockets won the season series last year, 2 games to 1.
The Big Picture:
The Clippers can't seem to enjoy their success. They're on a three game winning streak for the first time this season, but they lost a player to injury in two of those games. Brian Cook sprained his ankle in the final minute of the win over Detroit, and Craig Smith's back starting hurting him again after the game in Chicago. At this point, both Cook and Smith are out for at least the next two weeks, joining the already sidelined Chris Kaman, and leaving the Clippers' front court dangerously thin. Then again, if that means more Blake Griffin, there are worse problems I suppose. Griffin has registered a double double in 16 consecutive games, and is averaging almost 21 points and over 12 rebounds a game on the season. I think we sometimes get trapped thinking that those are good numbers for a rookie. Actually, those are good numbers for anybody, good numbers for an All Pro. Eric Gordon is the Clippers' leading scorer, and burst out of a mini-slump with 36 points in Monday's win over the Timberwolves. The Clippers more or less expect solid production from Griffin and Gordon, but it's the contributions from the rest of the roster that have been making the difference lately. Ryan Gomes is making a push to be the third G in LA's G-Force, and had a 22 point, 10 rebound game on Monday. And most importantly, Baron Davis is starting to run the team like the talented veteran point guard he is. Baron's penetration in the half court is opening up opportunities for everyone, and his preternatural passing is creating easy baskets that the Clippers just weren't getting without him. He's connected with Griffin on at least six lobs during the win streak, all of them spectacular, some more spectacular than others.
The Rockets aren't what they seem. The Rockets are almost never what they seem. Two of the best known Rockets have missed the better part of the season. Yao Ming has played only five games and is now lost for the season with yet another stress fracture - let's face it, his career may be over. Meanwhile, Aaron Brooks is in his third game back from a sprained ankle that occurred in the fifth game of the season. Yet the Rockets, who started the season 0-5, are now 13-15, giving them a winning record since their tough start. I wouldn't say that the Rockets have been better without Yao and Brooks - but in Yao's case at least, I think they just know who they are and how they're going to play. I give Rick Adelman a tremendous amount of credit - he's a terrific coach. You usually think of a less talented team as needing to play great defense to win. Well, the Rockets have the sixth best offensive efficiency in the league, despite the fact that they start two non-scorers (Hayes and Battier). How do you score in the NBA without a bunch of scorers? You run your sets well, and you get the ball to your scorers. Kevin Martin and Luis Scola are quietly one of the best duos on any roster in the NBA this season. If you're a fan of True Shooting Percentage as a measure of offensive efficiency (and you know I am), you won't find two high scoring teammates with better true shooting than Martin (.635) and Scola (.540). Not Pau (.571) and Kobe (.555). Not even Gordon (.573) and Griffin (.542) (though the G-men would move up if Blake would make his free throws). Do not sleep on this team. They are better than 13-15. In fact, they are 10-5 in their last 15 games, and now they have Brooks back.
- [Note by Steve Perrin, 12/22/10 12:28 PM PST ] Diogu Signed. It's official. Ike Diogu has signed with the Clippers to provide some emergency front court depth with Chris Kaman, Brian Cook and Craig Smith all out of action. I wrote some about Diogu yesterday. He'll be in uniform for the game tonight.
- Brooks. The Rockets are working Aaron Brooks back into the lineup slowly. He has come off the bench in the last two games for 15 and 18 minutes. Lowry has done a good job of running the team in his absence, and they're not in a rush to mess up what seems to be working for them at present.
- Crossmatches everywhere. Other than Lowry and Baron Davis, I don't think we're going to see players defending their positional opposites very much in this game. DeAndre Jordan will probably defend Scola, leaving Griffin to battle Chuck Hayes on the glass, and also hopefully keeping Griffin out of foul trouble. Hayes may defend Griffin on the other end, but that's less clear. Likewise, I can't be certain but I expect the Rockets to put Shane Battier on Eric Gordon, and dare Ryan Gomes to beat them against Kevin Martin. Teams have had some success putting long defenders (like Tayshaun Prince) on EJ. Battier is Houston's best perimeter defender, so he'll be defending the Clippers best perimeter player, I assume.
- Martin versus the Clippers. When Kevin Martin was in Sacramento, he seemed to always play terribly against the Clippers. When he was tearing up the rest of the league, he had games of 1 for 8, 1 for 5, 3 for 9, 5 for 13 and 3 for 11. Of course, those were different Clippers teams and literally a different team for Martin, who has never faced LA as a Rocket.
- Martin and EJ. If there is another NBA player who resembles Eric Gordon from a purely statistical standpoint, it's Kevin Martin. They both shoot a good percentage, make a good number of threes, and get to the line a lot. As a result, they both have ridiculously good True Shooting Percentages (momma, there goes that stat again). Martin is a CAREER .601 in TSP (that's just insane for a two guard). He posted a TSP above .600 four straight years in Sacto. This season he's at .635, which is a career high, which is really saying something when you're talking about a player who has always been among the league leaders in TSP. Gordon's career TSP is .581, which seems bad compared to Martin's, but trust me, that's really, really good. EJ's at .573 this year, but as his three point percentage continues to climb, so will his TSP.
- Did I mention they get to the line? A second bullet on Speed Racer and the Hobbit, because this stuff is just too good. Martin is leading the league in free throws made with 220. He has gotten to the line 240 times in 28 games, an average of 8.57 times per game. Gordon has gotten to the line 231 times in 27 games, an average of 8.56 times per game. They are fifth and sixth in the league in attempts per game. But Martin makes .917 of his freebies, which is the second best free throw percentage in the NBA, compared to Gordon's .801.
- Last bullet on Martin and Gordon. For all their statistical similarities (Gordon is averaging 23.9 points per game, 9th in the league, Martin is at 23.4, 11th), they are physically very different. Martin is long and wispy, Gordon much more solid. Gordon goes into the lane like a bowling ball in the parlance of Ralph Lawler; Martin sneaks into the lane. Both get there, and both subsequently get to the line. Even their shooting form is very different. Gordon's got a text book shooting stroke, while Martin's is a convoluted affair, a little reminiscent of Jamaal Wilkes (a reference that may be meaningless to some of the younger citizens). But either will kill you from the perimeter if you give them a chance.
- Scary Scola. Luis Scola scares me to DEATH in this game. I'm going to make you suffer through a story. I was playing at a playground court here in Long Beach a couple of years ago. I'm 5'9" and played point guard my whole life, but as a 40 something gym rat, I also learned some old school post moves along the way. I was opposite some 19 year old kid who was playing JC ball - 6'3", great athlete, could run circles around me in the open court. But I got him on the block, gave him a head fake and went up and under on him, and scored on several consecutive possessions. He had literally never seen anything like that move before and asked me to explain what I was doing. I think he thought it must have been illegal. After some curmudgeon moments ("What are they teaching you kids these days? Haven't you ever heard of Kevin McHale?") I demonstrated the move to him. In case you missed it, Scola is me in this analogy, and DeAndre (or Blake, but especially DeAndre) is the kid. Scola has every old guy, YMCA, gym rat move in the book. He's going to have DeAndre jumping out of his socks on a dozen different pump fakes and chasing his shadow, and I have a bad feeling that DJ is going to pick up three fouls in the first five minutes.
- Scary Chuck Hayes. I hate Chuck Hayes. OK, I don't really hate him, but at maybe 6'6" and not particularly athletic, I always predict that a Clippers big is going to feast on him, and it never happens. It turns out that Hayes is incredibly strong, very smart, and has a surprising amount of lateral quickness, making him one of the best post defenders in the league. It's hard to imagine that he'll be able to hang with Blake Griffin given his physical limitations - but I'm pretty much always wrong when it comes to Hayes.
- Villanova connection. Randy Foye of the Clippers and Kyle Lowry of the Rockets were two of the four guards that led Villanova to the Elite Eight in 2006. Foye was ostensibly the power forward on that Wildcats team, which was one of the more interesting NCAA teams of recent memory.
- Who steps up? The Clippers and Rockets are mirror images from a scoring average standpoint. Both rely heavily on two primary scorers, both above 20 points per game. After that, they each drop off precipitously. Of other players in uniform tonight, only Lowry (11.2) and Brooks (13.7) are averaging double digits, and Brooks has been rusty since returning from injury. In a similar matchup with the Wolves, the Clippers limited the big guns (in that case Beasley and Love) AND got great support (from Gomes and Davis). They need to do at least one of those two things, and preferably both tonight.
- Three point shooting. And now the bad news. Although the scoring totals are similar, the way the teams get their points is very different. The Rockets take more than 20 threes per game, sixth in the league, at they make almost 40% of them, second best. The Clippers have fared terribly in games where their opponent has made a lot of threes this season. Seven Rockets take at least one three per game, and six of them are making better than 38% (an astounding number of players lighting it up from out there). One assumes that guys like Courtney Lee (37% in his first two NBA seasons, 49% this year) and Brad Miller (33% for his career, 46% this year) will revert to the mean at some point; let's hope it starts tonight. But let's also defend the three point line.
- Superstar for one game: Chase Budinger. The kid from Carlsbad always seems to play well against the Clippers.
Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. The world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.
- Get the Rockets perspective at The Dream Shake.