The Back Story (Clippers lead season series 1-0):
The Big Picture:
The Clippers have lost two road games since their happy fun time victory over the Rockets last Monday. A loss in Houston wouldn't be the end of the world, but it wouldn't be a lot of fun to drop below .500 on a three game skid so early in the season. So far, the Clippers fortunes have been linked pretty tightly with their star Chris Paul -- in three wins, he has shot 55% from the field, in three losses he's shot 37%. But there are plenty of things the team has to work on, beginning with the defense. They were a little better against the Heat on Thursday night, but there's still plenty of room for improvement. Unfortunately the Clippers will probably be without Matt Barnes for the third game in a row as he deals with a bruised thigh. Barnes would be one of the better options the Clippers have for defending James Harden, so his absence will be felt, as it was against LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. The good news is that Blake Griffin has been in a good groove the past few games. Griffin is shooting close to 60% from the field on the season -- but has only attempted more than 15 shots in a single game so far. It feels like it's time for a really big game from him.
The Rockets were run out of STAPLES Center by the Clippers on Monday, but then bounced back the next night to beat the Blazers convincingly. Thursday night they suffered a terrible collapse to the Lakers, giving up an 8-1 run over the final two minutes and losing on a three pointer with a second left. So I'm guessing they're pretty pissed off, which is probably not a good omen for the Clippers. The Rockets big two are certainly doing well statistically -- James Harden is second in the league in scoring, Dwight Howard is second in the league in rebounding. When these teams played on Monday, Rockets point guard Patrick Beverley was out with a slight muscle tear and Paul absolutely destroyed Jeremy Lin and Aaron Brooks. The Rockets are hoping that Beverley can help to contain Paul, and if he can, they'll have a much better chance in this game, as we've seen the impact that Paul's performance has on the Clippers' fortunes.
- The Questionable Blogger. There's a new QB for this game, featuring questions you the citizens submitted for Patrick Harrel of The Dream Shake to answer. I answered some reader questions as well, so you can head over to TDS to check out those answers, or look for the link to the Q&A in the cover of Clips Nation.
- Comparison of key metrics. The 2012-13 numbers (good offenses, less good defenses) would suggest that the Clippers and the Rockets might play a high scoring game against each other. Based on the 137-118 explosion on Monday, that seems accurate.
- Clippers viewing party. Don't forget the Clippers viewing party this afternoon at the Hooters in Santa Monica. They'll have 20% off food and merchandise for anyone in Clippers gear, and some giveaways at halftime. Hooters Santa Monica, 321 Santa Monica Blvd, (310) 458-7855.
- Clips Nation/Hyde Lounge giveaway. Remember also that Hyde Lounge is giving away a pair of VIP tickets to the Clipper vs. Timberwolves game on Monday. The tickets go to the person who makes the best predictions about the outcome of today's game against the Rockets -- the winner, statistical leaders, final margin, etc. Entries for the contest have to be received by 4 PM today, so if you have entered yet, go do it now, before it's too late.
- Quick turnaround. With only five days between the last Rockets game and this one, there's not a lot of new stuff to say in this preview. You should definitely go read Monday's preview if you haven't already, and read the first Q&A as well.
- Harden/Lin rift? As the Rockets were losing their lead against the Lakers Thursday, Harden appeared to sulk for an entire possession when the play wasn't called for him. He walked away from Lin as the point guard was calling the play, completely ignored his teammate's pleas to participate, then stood motionless in one spot for the entire possession, as the Rockets presumably ran a five person play with only four people. That's not good. He then apparently yelled at Lin for taking the shot. That's worse. Can't we assume that Kevin McHale called the play from the bench, and that Lin was simply trying to execute the coach's game plan? Maybe it's a good thing that Harden is in Houston instead of OKC after all -- it wasn't going to work out sharing with Durant and Westbrook if Harden is copping this attitude now.
- Hack a center, any center. With DeAndre Jordan (47% free throws) and Dwight Howard (50%) sharing the court, it's possible we'll see some intentional fouling in this one. Or perhaps Doc Rivers and Kevin McHale are so put off by the strategy when it is used against them, that they have a gentleman's agreement not to employ it against each other. You know how I feel. Strategically it's a loser other than as a desperation ploy to extend the game when you're behind at the end. Howard missed a bunch of free throws on Thursday which helped the Lakers come back -- but that's on McHale for having Howard out there while nursing a lead.
- The return of Beverley. Beverley won the starting point guard job in pre-season in large part because of his defense (both Lin and Harden are sub-par defenders.) He missed the first meeting between these teams, and the Clippers ran wild, scoring 78 points in the first half and 137 total. The Clippers won't have the same amazing game they did Monday, nor will Beverley single-handedly shut them down. But slowing Chris Paul will be a major factor, if Beverley can in fact do that.
- Is Casspi better than Lebron? That's a joke of course; Omri Casspi is clearly not better than LeBron James. But the fact is that Casspi absolutely destroyed Blake Griffin on Monday, while Griffin held his own defending James on Thursday. That's obviously a reflection of the difference in focus and effort Griffin was exerting in the two games. Hopefully he'll do better this time when the Rockets go small than he did on Monday.
- Harden's LAC struggles. Harden scored 15 points on 6-16 shooting against the Clippers Monday, his worst game of the season. He's only scored over 20 once against the Clippers, and his best shooting night was 6-12, which is surprising considering what an efficient scorer he has been in his career. His career scoring average is lower against the Clippers (11.8 points per game) than against any other team. There's no reasonable explanation for this -- the Clippers have not employed any sort of "Harden stopper" over the past four seasons. It's just one of those things.
- Connections. Unless I'm missing something, no one on the Clippers roster was ever a Rocket, and no one on the Rockets roster was ever a Clipper, which doesn't happen very often in an NBA game. DeAndre Jordan was born and raised in Houston. Parsons and Griffin played AAU ball together as teenagers. Rockets assistant Kelvin Sampson was the coach at Oklahoma before Blake Griffin arrived in Norman and had a hand in recruiting him. Rockets trainer Keith Jones used to be the Clippers trainer. Both the Rockets and the Clippers moved to their current cities from San Diego, making San Diego the only city to have lost two different NBA teams.
- Get the Houston perspective at The Dream Shake.
- Shakespearean reference:
Othello, Act III, Scene 4 -- Iago
Can he be angry? I have seen the cannon,
When it hath blown his ranks into the air,
And, like the devil, from his very arm
Puff'd his own brother:-and can he be angry?
Something of moment then: I will go meet him:
There's matter in't indeed, if he be angry.
Last time I cheated and used "firework" since there were no rockets in Shakespeare's England. Today I'm returning to Othello (which we used for our "magic" reference) and substituting a "cannon" for a "rocket."