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Los Angeles Clippers at Houston Rockets - Game Preview

2010/2011 NBA Regular Season

Toyota Center
April 9th, 2011, 5:30 PM
FSN Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM
Probable starters:
Mo Williams
PG Kyle Lowry
Eric Gordon SG Kevin Martin
Jamario Moon
SF Chase Budinger
Blake Griffin
PF Luis Scola
DeAndre Jordan
C Chuck Hayes

The Back Story:

The Big Picture:

I wonder which Clippers team will show up in Houston tonight? The one that blitzed Dallas for 35 first quarter points while taking a commanding 16 point lead, or the one that turned the ball over 19 times in the final three quarters, losing each of those quarters by nine points a piece and the game by 11? Some amount of inconsistency is I suppose to be expected from one of the youngest teams in the league, but this is ridiculous. It would be nice if they could just keep their turnovers down in these last two games of the season. I would assume that Chris Kaman will sit out tonight - in fact, I assume he's done for the season, such as it is. There's really no reason for him to test a strained knee at this point. Last night in Dallas, trying to defend Dirk while also dealing with Chandler and Haywood, Kaman's size was missed. Against the height challenged Rockets, Craig Smith will be fine. Chuck Hayes is the only center in the league shorter than Smith. Eric Gordon is currently in a terrible shooting slump: he's been below 40% in four straight games, and that's not like him at all. Things will get much easier for the Clippers if Gordon starts scoring again. Blake Griffin on the other hand is on a tear, making 26 of 39 from the field in his last two games.

The Antagonist:

Houston was the last team in the playoff race, but they were finally eliminated last night when Memphis beat Sacramento. The Rockets put up a valiant effort, despite losing their highest paid player and supposed building block Yao Ming at the very beginning of the season. They had won 8 out of 10 to stave off elimination, but ran out of gas and lost the last two, setting up Memphis' clincher tonight. Every time the Rockets over achieve, it gets attributed to some player who has supposedly made a quantum improvement - Trevor Ariza, or last season's Most Improved Player Aaron Brooks, or some such. But both Ariza and Brooks are now gone, and the Rockets are still above .500. They hung around the playoff race until the last week of the season despite trading two starters at the trade deadline primarily for draft picks and cap space. In short, they've done a remarkable job, given the adversity they've faced and the seeming lack of flashy NBA talent. Kevin Martin and Luis Scola are terrific (and very efficient) players, but beyond that it's an eclectic mix. There other starters might not be starters anywhere else in the league. Kyle Lowry wasn't a starter until this season. Chase Budinger wasn't a starter until they traded Ariza before the season and Shane Battier at the deadline. Chuck Hayes is the least likely of all, a 6'6" center whose shooting range stretches to about 2 feet. But they all know their roles and play them well, and the Rockets remain competitive despite the fact that on paper they don't appear to be.

The Subplots

  • Rockets defused? With the playoffs no longer a possibility, will the Rockets give some guys some rest? Scola missed five games in mid-March with sore knees, and one might suspect that he could use the rest. Martin has played 77 games this season, but has been quite injury-prone in recent years, so you can imagine that they might want to shut him down as well. Even if they play their normal rotation tonight, you can imagine that they may not have the greatest motivation level, playing for the first time this year without a hope for the playoffs.
  • Resting Blake. The question of rest and unnecessary injury risk applies to the Clippers as well. When you watch Blake Griffin dive over the scorer's table in Dallas going after a loose ball, you do ask yourself why he's killing himself in the final week of a playoff less season. It's an NBA game, a chance to get better, a chance to develop chemistry with teammates, particularly a guy like Mo Williams who's been with the team for less than 6 weeks, but still. How much would it suck if the collision with Kaman on Wednesday or that scorer's table crash last night caused a significant injury?
  • Key to the game. You may think I'm crazy, but I really believe that the key to the game will be how the refs handle the Chuck Hayes - Blake Griffin matchup. In Houston in January, the refs allowed Hayes to bump and bully Griffin all night without calling anything, he finished with three fouls total, and did not pick up his first one until 5 minutes before the half despite the fact that there were many foul-worthy plays. In LA last month, Hayes got two fouls in the course 55 seconds four minutes into the game. The referees in an NBA game have a ton of influence, even if you don't believe they have dishonest agendas. The way a referee calls a matchup - the amount of pushing and shoving they'll allow before blowing the whistle - can have a profound effect on the game, even if the refs are perfectly consistent with their calls within the game. If Hayes makes it through the first quarter with fewer than two fouls, it means they're letting them play, and the Clippers will be in trouble.
  • Turnovers. Last night in Dallas, Mo Williams committed 7 turnovers and Eric Gordon committed 5. That's an even dozen from the starting backcourt: the Hornets average 13 a game for the entire team. Eric is clearly struggling with his handle right now - when he tries to create something, things invariably go very, very wrong. The uncertainty with the ball is creating a conundrum for the team: they seem to play best when they are pushing tempo and getting out on the fastbreak, but they don't really have the ballhandlers to do that effectively (or as effectively as they should). How many times last night did the Clippers head in one direction with a numbers advantage and the ball, only to concede a dunk in the other direction because of a careless turnover? How many times did a Dallas player (usually Corey Brewer) sneak up behind a Clippers' ballhandler on the break and knock the ball away? Do the other players on the floor not now how to yell "BEHIND!"? Does the ballhandler not realize that this is a possibility?
  • Clippers leading scorer - Blake Griffin. How many people thought, going into this season, that Blake Griffin would lead the Clippers in scoring? Chris Kaman led the team last season and made the All Star team. Eric Gordon was coming off a huge off-season in which he won a Gold Medal with Team USA in Turkey and his confidence was sky high. Even Baron Davis might have been a better choice. In fact, Gordon did have a break season, going from 17 points per game to 22.5, making Griffin's accomplishment all the more impressive. Gordon's been slumping late, because he was up at 24 points per game not too long ago. But really the story here is Griffin. Last night in Dallas he took over the points per game lead on the team, and it's hard to imagine he's going to give that up any time in the next decade or so.
  • Goal: .500 since Dec. 15? It's not much, but you have to look for small victories; the Clippers have been flirting with the .500 mark for the 50 some games since they were 5-21 on Dec. 15. After two straight losses, they're no 26-28; they can get back to .500 by winning their final two games of the season. For what it's worth. As it happens, these are probably pretty winnable games. The Rockets will be deflated in their first game since being eliminated by Memphis' win just last night. And the final game is back in Staples against the Grizzlies.
  • Rockets rested, Clippers not. The Rockets haven't played since Wednesday; the Clippers played last night in Dallas. Of course, the Clippers are also on the road, on the final stop of a 4 game trip.I'm glad this game doesn't matter in the standings, because it's pretty well gift-wrapped for the Rockets if anyone cared.
  • DJ in Houston. DeAndre Jordan is a Houston native. This is the sixth time the Clippers have been to Houston since DJ joined the team, but he did not get into two of those games. Tonight he'll likely get the start, and plenty of minutes assuming he stays out of foul trouble. I would expect he'll be sky high.
  • Think about the future. The Rockets have Martin and Scola locked up for a couple years at least. In fact, they have basically all of their roster back next season, with the exception of Hayes, who is an unrestricted free agent. Now, this is Hayes' sixth season in Houston, and it's hard to imagine him getting this much opportunity anywhere else, so you wonder if Hayes and Houston aren't made for each other. But you also wonder what another team might pay for him, and if Daryl Morey has a number in his head that he thinks Hayes is worth, a number he won't go over. We'll see. The Rockets also have two late lottery picks this summer (their own and Phoenix') and they have five first rounders in the next three seasons. But it seems like the current team is only good enough to challenge for the playoffs, not good enough to make them, and certainly not good enough to get anywhere. Nor are they a particularly young team - at least not the guys who play. So it will be interesting to see how the Rockets go about improving the team.
  • 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. But he's 7 for 26 in the last two meetings, reverting to his Clipper-phobic ways.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Superstar for one game: Jordan Hill. The Rockets rest Scola, and Hill goes for a new career high (currently 16).
  • Famous Quotation:

    The day of fire is coming, the thrush
    will fly ablaze like a little sky rocket....

    Anne Sexton, The Fury of Earth.
  • Get the Rockets perspective at The Dream Shake.