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Clippers at Houston - Game Preview

2009/2010 NBA Regular Season
Toyota Center
March 23th, 2010, 5:30 PM
Prime Ticket, 980 AM
Probable starters:
Baron Davis
PG Aaron Brooks
Eric Gordon
SG Kevin Martin
Rasual Butler
SF Trevor Ariza
Drew Gooden
PF Luis Scola
Chris Kaman
C Chuck Hayes



The Back Story:

The Big Picture:

The Clippers have not won a road game under Kim Hughes.  The last time they won on the road was in Chicago on February 2nd, in the penultimate game of MDsr's Clipper coaching career.  The Clippers have lost 11 straight since then, and Kim Hughes is 0-1o on the road as a head coach, and most of the losses have been blowouts.  And just so you know, those weren't all against great teams - they've lost at Golden State and at Sacramento in that stretch.  Tuesday night in Dallas, they turned a 16 point deficit into a 4 point lead in the third quarter after Dirk Nowizki was ejected - and then managed to give it all back and lose by 10.  Lately the big problem has been getting an entire team to show up on the same night.  In Sunday's loss to Sacramento, the starters were terrible and the reserves were very good.  In Dallas, the starters were solid, but the reserves were terrible.  I'm not saying that every player on the roster has to have a career night in the same game - but how about if everybody doesn't stink for a game?  Is that too much to ask?

The Antagonist:

When Yao Ming was lost for the season before it even started, and with Tracy McGrady recovering from knee surgery, few people gave the Rockets much chance of making the playoffs (I know I didn't).  With three weeks left in the season, it looks like the doubters were right - but not really.  I'll admit it - Houston is a lot closer to the playoffs (two games over .500 with 12 to go) than I ever thought they'd be, and I'm damned if I know how they're doing it.  They're basically smack dab in the middle of the league in both offensive (15th) and defensive (14th) efficiency.  The score 107.1 points per 100 possessions, and give up 106.9.  It's just enough to be a little over .500, which is where they are.  But how?  If you'd told me they were respectable, I would have assumed they were doing it with a top 5 defense perhaps.  How can they be a middle of the pack scoring team with no scorers?  Trevor Ariza is one of the least efficient scorers in the league (.387 shooting) and Aaron Brooks isn't much better (.423).  Of course, now they have Kevin Martin who fits the mold of the NBA scorer much better than anyone else on the team, but the team is only 8-9 with Speed Racer in the lineup.  At any rate, although the Rockets are unlikely to make the playoffs, 5.5 games out of 8th with 12 games left to play, it's been a noble experiment, and Rick Adelman has made a believer out of me.  

The Subplots:

  • Back to back.  For the second road game in a row, the Clippers catch a team on a back to back while they themselves are rested.  It didn't help a lot in Dallas on Tuesday, as the Mavs pulled away in the fourth, which is when they should have been feeling weary.  We'll see if it makes a difference in this one.
  • Injuries.  The Rockets are pretty beat up right now.  Last night in Oklahoma City they were without four backup forwards - Shane Battier, David Andersen, Jordan Hill and Jared Jeffries.  Seems like Hill could play tonight, but the others will all be out.  As a consequence, the Rockets signed a guy named Mike Harris from the D-League, who has now played for the Rockets, the Wizards and the Rockets again in the same season.  That must not happen a lot - the same team twice in one season with another team in between.  Harris' career high is 12, scored in March of 2008 with the Rockets.  I predict 30 tonight.
  • Last game.  The last time the Clippers played the Rockets, Luis Scola, Carl Landry and David Andersen destroyed them.  Well, Landry's in Sacramento, Andersen is hurt, so it's just Scola they have to deal with tonight of those three. 
  • No Landry, thank goodness.  The Clippers will probably end up playing against Landry six times this season.  He was a Rocket for the first two meetings, and then went to Sacramento at the trade deadline, and it just so happens that in a scheduling quirk, all four Clipper-Kings games this season are after the trade deadline.  Since he destroys the Clippers regularly, it's unfortunate that we have to see him six times in a single season.  But at least we don't have to deal with him tonight.
  • Kevin Martin.  In stark contrast to Landry, Kevin Martin has traditionally NOT played very well against the Clippers.  In 13 career games against the Clippers, he's averaging 12.6 points per game, compared to a career average of 17.4.  Of course, a lot of those sub-par games he was being defended by a guy named Quinton Ross, and he might have had something to do with it.
  • Gooden 26-20.  I was a bit confused at first when Drew Gooden didn't ask for a buyout from the Clippers.  Why would he want the buyout from the Wizards, but agree to stick around with the Clippers?  It's not as if the Clippers had any more chance of seeing the post-season than the Wizards.  I'm realizing now that it was about playing time.  The Clippers told him he would be the starting power forward, and he was looking for a chance to get some playing time and pad his resume some for yet another summer on the free agent market.  The Clippers have been true to their word and given him lots of minutes, and Gooden has responded with lots of production.  He's got a PER of 18.2 as a Clipper, and is averaging 14.7 points and 9.7 rebounds.  His 26-20 game against Dallas on Tuesday was the first 20-20 game of his career.  Then again, it was only the sixth time in his career he's taken as many as 21 field goals in a game.  So yeah, he's getting lots of opportunities with the Clippers.  Hopefully he can defend Scola.
  • Kaman career high last game.  In the last meeting of these two teams, Chris Kaman got his career of 29 points.  In inimitable Kaman fashion, he had 21 points at halftime and 25 points less than 4 minutes into the second half.  I distinctly remember Milph commenting that there was no way he wouldn't reach the 30 point plateau for the first time in his career, sitting at 25 with over 20 minutes of basketball yet to be played.  But he only made it to 29, preserving his record of 20wo30s, which stands at 68 after Tuesday game.  We thought Chris should destroy the 6'6" Chuck Hayes, but Hayes held him down in the first meeting.  In the second, Chris definitely won the battle, even if he finished shy of 30.  How will it turn out in this one?
  • Ariza.  If the Rockets have proven that a team can at least compete without a go to scorer, I'd say that their other experiment has been less successful.  That is, you can't turn a role player into a number one option.  Or at the very least, you shouldn't.  As the Lakers 5th option, Ariza was perfect.  He played defense, hit open threes, he slashed to the basket for monster dunks.  They never ran a play for him, and he took 10.7 shots per 36 minutes, making 46% of them.  As the first or second option for the Rockets most of the season, he's taking 13.9 shots per 36 minutes - and making 38.7% of them.  Of players with 500 field goal attempts this season, only Brandon Jennings has made a lower percentage.
  • TV Quote: 

    Let's cut to the chase, freak show. If you're a forty-four-year-old man wearing a jumpsuit and you are not climbing into the cockpit of a rocket ship, chances are you've made a lot of wrong turns along the way. Good talk.

    Dr. Kelso, Scrubs: My Mirror Image (2006). There was a point in my life somewhere that I just sort of stopped watching sitcoms.  I mean, I lived for Cheers back in the day, but some time after Friends and Seinfeld, I just couldn't much be bothered any more.  (I do still watch The Office now and again, but that hardly counts.)  There's an interesting thing happening now - my son is watching TV shows in syndication that I've never really watched - specifically, That 70s Show and Scrubs - and it turns out they don't suck.  Scrubs in particular has a very fun pop culture vibe going on that I quite enjoy.  Any show that includes an a capella version of the Underdog theme song has got some serious chops.
  • Get the Rockets perspective at The Dream Shake.