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Los Angeles Clippers vs. Houston Rockets - Game Preview

2010/2011 NBA Regular Season

Staples Center
March 2nd, 2011, 7:30 PM
FSN Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM
Probable starters:
Mo Williams
PG Kyle Lowry
Randy Foye SG Kevin Martin
Ryan Gomes
SF Chase Budinger
Blake Griffin
PF Luis Scola
DeAndre Jordan
C Chuck Hayes

The Back Story:

The Big Picture:

The excitement about the Clippers that was so rampant back in January when they were winning is almost completely gone. After a 2-12 February, the sobering reality is that a loss tonight would be their 41st, ensuring yet another non-winning season for the team, with fully 20 games left to play. But at least February is over, and it's a chance to start the new month out on the right foot. It's also the first time since January that they're playing a non-playoff team at home. They haven't lost to a non-playoff team at home since December. The team? These same Houston Rockets. When the teams last met in Houston, Blake Griffin had perhaps his worst offensive game of the season - 14 points on 16 shots, 3 turnovers. In that game the refs allowed Chuck Hayes to body Griffin, and it really disrupted his game. We'll see if Blake gets a few more calls in Staples. The Clippers new starting point guard, Mo Williams, has still not had a full practice with the team, as he sat out yesterday to rest his sore ankle, which he tweaked in Sacramento Monday night. Williams looked pretty good in his Clippers debut Monday, and tonight will be his home debut, along with Jamario Moon. But the big news for the Clippers is that Eric Gordon will be back. Lisa Dillman tweeted that Coach Vinny Del Negro said that Gordon will play tonight. How much and how effectively remains to be seen, but it will obviously be good to have Gordon back. If indeed Gordon plays (and no quirk injuries pop up in the shootaround), it will be the first time since the second game of the season that the Clippers will enter a game without any players missing due to injury.

The Antagonist:

Houston continues to overachieve. With Yao Ming missing the entire season, and with unheralded role players in several positions, the Rockets have nonetheless climbed back to .500 in the very tough Western Conference, and with a win over the Clippers tonight, they would get above .500 for the first time this season. They've won five straight (tying their longest winning streak of the season) and nine of twelve. What's particularly striking about their current run of success is that the trades they made at the deadline were all about the future - they traded two of their more recognizable players (Shane Battier and Aaron Brooks) for projects and draft picks. Yet since making those deals, they've won three straight, the last two on the road against good teams, since making the trades. So just go right on ahead and figure. Part of their success is that Rick Adelman can coach - he gets the most out of his team, no matter who is on the floor. The Rockets are led most nights by Kevin Martin and Luis Scola. Martin remains perhaps the most efficient 20 point scorer in the league and has been on a tear lately. Scola is just an old school baller, with every move in the book, and a few that never actually got written down.

The Subplots

  • Rockets on a back to back. After a month that seemed intentionally cruel from a schedule standpoint, replete with the second longest road trip in the history of the league and multiple back to back games, the Clippers catch a scheduling break tonight, as it is the Rockets who are on the second night of a road back to back. And it's a tough one at that - a 7 PM in Portland last night.
  • Standings. The last time these two teams met, five weeks ago on January 26th, the Rockets were a mere two games ahead of the Clippers in the loss column. Eric Gordon had just suffered his injury, and we knew he was going to be out for some time, so it seemed pretty obvious even then that any hope of making a playoff push disappeared with Gordon. Still, what a difference. Heading into this game, the Clippers are now nine games back of the Rockets in the loss column. Actually, if we revisit the ancient history of the brief time when we were dreaming of the playoffs, it's interesting to note that we were only hoping to possibly reach .500 by the end of the season; since that time Portland and Memphis and Phoenix and Houston have gotten hot, and it's becoming increasingly obvious that it's going to require more than 41 wins (probably considerably more) to make the playoffs in the West this season (even if Utah and Denver have post trade swoons). Houston, now at .500, is eleventh in the conference. So in retrospect, the Clippers really had no chance, even with a healthy Gordon - the hole was just too deep.
  • A very bad month. The Clippers were 2-12 in February, their worst full month of the season (they lost all three of their October games). The terrible record is all the more painful when put in the context of the steady improvement the team had been experiencing: 0-3 in October, 3-12 in November, 7-8 in December, 9-5 in January. Of course the team was essentially doomed to fail last month by the schedule that sent them on an 11 game road trip and gave them only two home games. Having several key players hurt, including leading scorer Eric Gordon, certainly didn't help matters.
  • Gordon is back! Gordon told reporters yesterday that he would be a game time decision for this game, but according to Lisa Dillman's tweet, he will indeed be playing tonight. The Clippers could certainly use him back on the floor. For what it's worth, the Clippers are 4-16 (.200) in games without Eric Gordon this season, 17-24 (.415) with him. So I guess it's worth a lot.
  • Hayes vs. Griffin. I really believe that the game is going to be decided in this matchup. Chuck Hayes is pretty much the anti-Griffin - nothing Hayes does could ever be considered a 'highlight', but if sneezes it's on SportsCenter. But Hayes is one of the best and most tenacious defenders in the league, and in the last meeting he absolutely gave Griffin fits, not allowing Griffin to get to his spots, and not giving him any easy baskets. I also believe that the refs can greatly impact how this matchup goes. Hayes uses his body very well to defend, but the point is he uses his body; he will lean on Griffin and push him and crowd him, and it's a judgment call as to how much is too much. If Hayes gets two quick fouls and has to come out of the game and adjust how he plays Blake then it will be a very different game than if he is allowed to move Griffin off his spots all game long.
  • Griffin motivated? Don't think for a second that Blake Griffin doesn't remember the last game. I have a feeling that he'll be extra motivated to light up Hayes tonight.
  • Scola hurting? Don't count on it. Luis Scola, the second leading scorer and leading rebounder on the Rockets, left Sunday's game with a strained knee, but he was right back in the lineup last night in Portland. Scola has never missed a game in his NBA career, playing in 308 straight so far. He played 41 minutes and made 10 of 11 shots in Portland, so I guess maybe he's feeling OK.
  • Chase Budinger. When Shane Battier was traded to Memphis last week, Budinger slid into the starting lineup. He responded immediately with games of 30 and 27 points, the two highest scoring games of his NBA career. Budinger has always had a world of talent - super athletic, with good range on his shot - and when he was a freshman at Arizona he was projected as a lottery pick. But after not making as much progress in three seasons in Tucson as scouts expected, he dropped all the way to the second round. But he's been a real steal for the Rockets, and may now be fulfilling his early promise.
  • Martin versus the Clippers. When Kevin Martin was in Sacramento, he seemed to always play terribly against the Clippers. While 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. In his first game against the Clippers as a Rocket last month he scored 28 and made some absolutely incredible shots. Then, in the second meeting of the season, Martin returned to his Clipperphobic ways - scoring a season low 8 points in only 21 minutes. He's been red hot lately and is currently riding a string of three straight 30 point games. He was just named the Western Conference Player of the Week.
  • First meeting. When these teams met in December it was one of the crazier games of the season. The Clippers fell behind big almost immediately, and then went on one of the most entertaining runs of the season, with highlight dunk after highlight dunk. But they could never catch the Rockets. At the end, Blake Griffin had a chance to tie the game but his three pointer came up short with 3 seconds on the clock.
  • Aaron Brooks. Aaron Brooks led the Rockets in points scored last season and won the NBA's Most Improved Player award in the process. This season, he lost his starting job to Kyle Lowry, and was traded last week to the Suns for Goran Dragic and a first round pick. He was considered a major factor in Houston's overachievement last season, and now he's just gone.
  • New faces in Houston. The Rockets have a lot of new players since the trade deadline. Battier and Brooks (both starters last season, and Battier was a starter this year) are both gone. In their place is a hodgepodge - the Rockets made these deals primarily for the draft picks they received, not for the players. Nonetheless, DeMarre Carroll, Hasheem Thabeet and Dragic are all on the team now - though none of them played Sunday against New Orleans (Dragic because he was sick, the others were coach's decisions).
  • Stockpiling 2009 draft busts. In a bizarre coincidence (or is it?) the Rockets are seemingly stockpiling any and all draft busts from the 2009 draft. Only four lottery picks from that draft are no longer with their original teams - three of them (the three highest picks to move) are now with the Rockets. Hasheem Thabeet (2nd pick) Jordan Hill (8th) and Terrence Williams (11th) have all joined the Rockets since last year's trade deadline. Ironically, the Rockets starters are almost all low picks - Martin was a 26th pick, Scola 27th, Lowry 24th, Budinger a second rounder and Hayes was undrafted. Budinger was in the same draft as his new teammates, Thabeet, Hill and Williams - and was taken over 30 picks later.
  • Avoiding the sweep. The Kings avoided a sweep at the hands of the Clippers last night. The Rockets are 2-0 against the LAC this season, with tonight's game and an April meeting yet to come. But with the last game being in Houston, it would seem that this would be the one the Clippers really need to win if they want to beat the Rockets at all this season.
  • Superstar for one game: Chase Budinger. The kid from Carlsbad always seems to play well against the Clippers.
  • Famous Quotation:

    Let the rockets flash and the cannon thunder,
    This child is a marvel, a matchless wonder.
    A staggering child, a child astounding,
    Dazzling, diaperless, dumfounding,
    Stupendous, miraculous, unsurpassed,
    A child to stagger and flabbergast,
    Bright as a button, sharp as a thorn,
    And the only perfect one ever born.
    Arrived this evening at half-past nine.
    Everybody is doing fine.
    Is it a boy, or quite the reverse?
    You can call in the morning and ask the nurse.

    Ogden Nash, First Child . . . Second Child
  • Get the Rockets perspective at The Dream Shake.