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Clippers-Rockets Preview: Clips try to shoot down the Rockets

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Following last night's tough loss to the Spurs, the Clippers will try to bounce back tonight against the Rockets.

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

2015-16 NBA Regular Season
vs.
Houston Rockets (13-14)

Los Angeles Clippers (16-11)
December 19, 2015 — 5:00 PM PDT
Toyota Center, Houston, Texas
Prime Ticket, The Beast 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Win-Loss Breakdown ('15-'16)
13-14 Record 16-11
4-6 East 6-3
9-8 West 10-8
2-3 Division 3-3
7-7 Home 10-5
6-7 Road 6-6
4-7 .500+ 5-7
9-7 .500– 11-4
3-0 OT 0-0
6-4 L10 7-3
Projected Starters
Patrick Beverley PG Chris Paul
James Harden SG J.J. Redick
Trevor Ariza SF Luc Mbah a Moute
Clint Capela PF Blake Griffin
Dwight Howard C DeAndre Jordan
Efficiency Stats ('15-'16)
100.4 (6th) Pace 98.7 (14th)
102.2 (11th) OffRtg 104.3 (5th)
105.0 (25th) DefRtg 101.5 (15th)
-2.8 (21st) NetRtg 2.8 (9th)
Injury Report
Ty Lawson (suspension) Out

What's new with the Clippers?

The Clippers come into this one having drawn the short end of the stick. Playing the Spurs in San Antonio is a rough task for any team, but having to play again the next night somewhere else isn't ideal, either. Despite the loss, it was encouraging seeing the Clips stick with the Spurs in San Antonio, where they're still unbeaten on the season. The "Core Four" Clipper starters each had to play at least 33 minutes last night, so we'll see how much they have left in the tank on the second half of this back-to-back.

Regardless, the team is still 7-3 over its last 10 games and has been looking considerably more cohesive than they did early in the year.

What's new with the Rockets?

To be blunt, this season has been a chaotic disaster for the Rockets. They fired Kevin McHale 11 regular season games removed from their surprising trip to the Western Conference Finals a year ago, replacing him with J.B. Bickerstaff. The team has played a bit better under the interim coach (4-7 under McHale, 9-7 under Bickerstaff), but they've still yet to look anything close to the team that was one step from the Finals just a few months ago.

GM Daryl Morey is a notorious roster tinkerer, but he opted for continuity this past offseason rather than trying to overhaul everything. The lone "splash" the team made was trading a slew of spare parts to Denver in exchange for embattled point guard Ty Lawson. Lawson's brief stint in Houston has been atrocious, and he's reportedly already been put on the trading block after having his role diminished considerably. He's also suspended for this one in light of recent DUI conviction.

Houston has a grand total of two wins of at least 10 points this season, though both have come in the last week against the woeful Lakers. Considering the Lakers aren't really an NBA team, that hardly counts. However, they did take the first meeting with the Clippers this season back at STAPLES Center in early November. James Harden dropped 46 points while Dwight Howard chimed-in with 20 points and 20 rebounds in a game Chris Paul missed due to a groin injury. It was a close affair throughout that went Houston's way late, thanks in large part to a missed goaltending call on Howard that would've given the ball back to the Clippers with just seconds remaining.

Battle of the boards

These are two of the worst rebounding teams in the league. Houston comes into this one ranked 23rd in team rebound rate (48.4), while the Clippers are 27th (47.7). The Rockets got the better of the Clips on the glass in the first showdown this season by a 47-41 margin. While Houston is a terrible defensive rebounding team, they're actually one of the better teams on the offensive boards, ranking 6th in offensive rebound rate (25.4). They reeled-in a ridiculous 23 offensive rebounds in their last game (against the Lakers, but still), leading to 28 second-chance points.

The starting combo of Howard and Clint Capela is proficient at playing volleyball on the offensive glass. It's going to be crucial for DeAndre Jordan, Blake Griffin and the rest of the Clippers to be focused on securing defensive rebounds in this one. Houston is a bad shooting team (22nd in FG%, 19th in 3P%), obviously resulting in plenty of rebounding opportunities. If L.A. can cut-down on Houston's second-chance chances, they'll improve their odds of coming up with a win considerably.

As mentioned above, though, the Rockets don't clean the defensive glass well. Doc Rivers doesn't prioritize offensive rebounding as he'd rather have his team get back on defense in order to prevent transition opportunities for the opponent. As a result, the Clips don't crash the glass much. As eloquently explained by our own Justin Russo here, the Clippers actually fare pretty well on the offensive boards they do chase. These Rockets are vulnerable in this area, and LAC should try and take advantage. It's a risk, especially when you consider that Houston plays at one of the league's quickest paces, but the Clips should look for any edge they can possibly gain.

Keep Harden out of the paint

James Harden shot 14-of-26 against the Clips in the season's first meeting on November 7th, including 5-of-10 from three. Here's his full shot plot, courtesy of NBA.com:

That's an awful lot of green, particularly in the paint. A whopping 12 of Harden's shot attempts came in the lane, and the four he missed were right around the bucket. He was on fire from everywhere on the floor in this game, but that's not indicative of how he's been all year long. Below is his full season shot chart:

Yuck. Not a whole lot of green there, which makes sense considering he's shooting just 41% from the floor this season. Harden hasn't finished at the rim particularly well (52.6%), but you can see that's where he's still taking the majority of his shots. It's a must for the Clipper defenders to try and force him to take outside looks rather than allowing him to waltz into the lane, as he did in the last matchup.

On the other end, the Clippers should also be looking to exploit Harden's "defense". After playing respectable D a year ago, The Beard has apparently decided he doesn't care to defend anymore. The Twitter memes are as prevalent as ever. He's been allowing his man to get to the rim whenever he wants all year long. The Clippers don't have many wingers that like to drive, but those that do (Austin Rivers, Jamal Crawford, Lance Stephenson) should be attacking Harden whenever possible.

The Rockets have been one of the NBA's worst defensive teams this season, and Harden's a big reason for it.

Game day song of choice

We typically think of Texas the as, "aw, shucks, country, y'all!" capital of the world, and there's definitely plenty of that in Houston. That's not all, though. It's also developed into a fairly notorious rap scene in recent years, with such luminaries as Bun B, Slim Thug, Scarface and Pimp C all hailing from H-Town. We'll go in another direction, though.

Beyoncé is from Houston. Her husband used to be a part owner of the Nets. A basketball tie-in! Here's some random song from YouTube:

Win Butler is a huge basketball fan, and is often seen courtside at Pelicans games. Here he is participating in last year's Celebrity All-Star Game:

Looking athletic there, Win. He lives in New Orleans, but was raised in The Woodlands, Texas, right outside of Houston. Arcade Fire > any rap (not debatable), so this takes the cake. Plus, another obvious basketball tie-in!

Clips-Rockets gets underway from Houston at 5pm PT. Let's all watch and enjoy together. Go Clippers.