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Clippers-Rockets Preview: Does It Have To Be Game 6?

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In game number 6, the Clippers try to make up for Game Six.

Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

2015-16 NBA Regular Season
@
Houston Rockets (3-3)

Los Angeles Clippers (4-1)
November 7, 2015 — 7:30 PM PDT
STAPLES Center — Los Angeles, CA
Prime Ticket, The Beast 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Win-Loss Breakdown ('15-'16)
3-3 Record 4-1
1-1 East 0-0
2-2 West 4-1
0-0 Division 2-0
2-2 Home 3-0
1-1 Road 1-1
1-2 .500+ 2-1
2-1 .500– 2-0
1-0 OT 0-0
3-3 L10 4-1
Projected Starters
Ty Lawson PG Chris Paul
Marcus Thornton SG J.J. Redick
James Harden SF Lance Stephenson
Trevor Ariza PF Blake Griffin
Dwight Howard C DeAndre Jordan
Efficiency Stats ('14-'15)
100.8 (14th) Pace 103.2 (7th)
95.4 (26th) OffRtg 105.4 (4th)
106.8 (T-24th) DefRtg 97.8 (12th)
-7.7 (25th) NetRtg 7.6 (3rd)
Injury Report
Donatas Motiejunas (back) out Chris Paul (groin) probable
Terrence Jones (lacerated eyelid) out
Patrick Beverley (concussion) out
'14-'15 Season Series (Clippers and Rockets tied 2-2)
Date
Venue
Final
Clips Nation Recap
NBA Box Score
11/28/2014
Houston
Clippers 102, Rockets 85
Recap
Box Score
2/11/2015
Los Angeles
Clippers 110, Rockets 95
Recap
Box Score
02/25/2015
Houston
Rockets 110, Clippers 105
Recap
Box Score
03/15/2015
Los Angeles
Rockets 100, Clippers 98
Recap
Box Score

The Big Picture:

It had to be game six. As in Game Six. If self-flagellation is your thing, you can experience the tragedy all over again in this Matt Heller piece from yesterday. Personally, I like looking at the bright side of things, so let's focus on the Clippers' 4-1 start. The lone loss came Wednesday night in a contest that was tighter than many expected it to be. As the season's biggest litmus test so far, your post-game reaction likely depends on your basketball Weltanschauung. Think aspiring champions must win statement games like that? Then the competitive nature of the game was of little consolation. Think that any early signs of excellence are good signs? You're satisfied that the Clipper starters largely outplayed their Golden State counterparts and fought back from a deep early deficit. The Clippers aren't hitting on all cylinders yet, but there's plenty of time to push deeper into the accelerator. So far so good, and it'll be even better with a win tonight.

The Antagonist:

This Rockets team has been an early success . . . in making their preseason hype men second-guess themselves. Houston launched its season in ignominious fashion, becoming the first team in history to lose its first three games by at least 20 points. In the third of those games, the Rockets actually led by 20 at the half. They've begun the process of salvaging the wreckage with back-to-back-to-back wins over the ThunderMagic, and Kings, but Wednesday's win over Orlando required an extra five minutes of basketball, and James Harden's 6 for 22 shooting performance in that game kept him below the 30% mark until his 43 point outburst last night in Sacramento. It's true that their injury report has three valuable role players, but depth was presumed to be one of this team's core competencies. In a Western Conference that is always nip-and-tuck, a slow start can be critical. The Rockets need to get themselves pointed in the right direction quickly.

The Subplots:

  • Comparison of Key Metrics. .293 and .274. Those are the Clippers' and Rockets' respective 3-point field goal percentages. Neither team will stay sub .300 for long.
  • Schedule. Coming off a defeat to their rivals in Oakland, the Clippers host their rivals from Houston tonight and their rivals from Memphis on Monday. Next Wednesday and Thursday bring consecutive road rivalry games in Dallas and Phoenix. At this point, it might be easier to name the teams that aren't among the Clippers' rivals.
  • It's early! Exhibit #1: The aforementioned three-point percentages for tonight's contestants. Exhibit #2: Someone in Philadelphia named T.J. McConnell is in the NBA's top-10 in assists with more than 7 per game. Exhibit #3: Thanksgiving is still three weeks away. Exhibit #4: The Lakers are only a game and a half out of a playoff spot. The bottom line: It's a long season. Nearly all statements should begin or end with "IT'S EARLY".
  • Rotation consternation. Our fearless leader, Lucas, wrote about this Thursday in his five observations. Over at Nylon Calculus, Seth Partnow did too. Despite the heralded offseason makeover, the bench is still getting smoked too often. Again, IT'S EARLY, but the remade reserve units have yet to jell. Doc Rivers has been loathe to stagger his two star playmakers, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, but this writer would like to see Blake headline some bench units with Josh Smith backing him up at the rim, then rest while CP3 runs pick-and-rolls with DeAndre Jordan amidst the acres of space that could be provided by Paul Pierce, Wesley Johnson, Pablo Prigioni, and OK maybe even Jamal Crawford.
  • FreeLance. Lance Stephenson looks like a nice fit at the starting small forward spot as something like a super-powered Matt Barnes. IT' S EARLY, but his shooting has regressed in the positive direction, his offensive rebounding has been valuable, and his eager cutting has been a pleasant surprise. Of course, this is Lance Stephenson, so two or three times per game he goes freelancing. That's a long setup for the question, why is the nickname FreeLance not a thing?
  • The shooting turnover. During Wednesday night's ESPN telecast, Jeff Van Gundy quoted an old coach and referred to an ill-advised Josh Smith three-pointer as a "shooting turnover". I love this description. I don't love that the bench seems to love shooting turnovers.
  • DJ and the new D. Doc Rivers famously adjusted the Clippers defensive scheme over the summer into something more conservative. As the primary rim defender, DeAndre is the player with the biggest adjustment to make, and his shaky transition is an illustration that scheme changes must be patient propositions. They take time, even when they seem simple. DeAndre is getting stuck in between too often, as his long-practiced habits are still quarreling with the new coaching demands. Monday night against the Suns, DeAndre frequently found himself in no man's land, and the wily Tyson Chandler ate his lunch, finishing with 14 points and 17 rebounds. Jordan himself only grabbed 9 rebounds, his only single-digit rebounding game this season, and his first in regular season play going back to February 6th last season.
  • For the Rockets' point of view, head over to The Dream Shake.
  • The rest. Josh Smith has been a great addition, but he needs to stop with the lazy passes. He's already turned several routine plays into turnovers... The three-time defending NBA FG% champion is at it again. DeAndre Jordan is converting a dunktastic 79.2% of his tries so far... Dwight Howard sat last night in an effort to limit his exposure to back-to-backs but will play tonight... New black unis tonight. Yuck. Please tell me what was wrong with these?