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Clippers-Rockets preview: One Last Test Before the Break

The Clippers won't play again until February 19. Can they build a little confidence before the break?

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
2014/2015 NBA Regular Season

February 11, 2015, 7:30 PM
ESPN, Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Win-Loss Breakdown
13-11 East 15-5
21-8 West 21-11
20-7 Home 18-8
14-12 Road 18-8
13-15 .500+ 15-13
21-4 .500- 21-3
5-5 L10 7-3
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Patrick Beverley
J.J. Redick SG James Harden
Matt Barnes SF Trevor Ariza
Spencer Hawes PF Donatas Motiejunas
DeAndre Jordan C Joey Dorsey
Advanced Stats
96.3 (13th of 30) Pace 98.5 (4th of 30)
110.6 (1st of 30) ORtg 103.6 (12th of 30)
104.6 (20th of 30) DRtg 99.9 (5th of 30)
Blake Griffin (elbow) out
Dwight Howard (knee) out

The Back Story (The Clippers lead the season series, 1-0):

Date Venue Final Recap Box
11/28/14 Houston Clippers 102, Rockets 85 Recap Box
02/11/15 Los Angeles Tonight

02/25/15 Houston

03/15/15 Los Angeles

The Big Picture:

Like Kanye, the Clippers kinda saved themselves at the last moment from a disastrous Grammy experience. Kinda. The injury-depleted Clippers beat the injury-depleted Mavericks to finish their eight-game road slog with three wins. Now, the night-to-night challenge becomes filling the Griffin-sized gap in the lineup. Doc appears willing to flex to the matchup and go with Jamal Crawford or Spencer Hawes as the opponent dictates. Either way, the team will need more performances like the kind Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan crafted in Dallas. I don't believe in momentum, and even if I did, I'm not sure that a win tonight followed by seven days off would provide it, but a victory over another Western Conference power sure wouldn't hurt their confidence or their place in the standings.

The Antagonist:

I could've saved myself some time by writing a paragraph about a Western Conference contender losing its star big man and pasted it into both of these sections. Unfortunately for the Rockets, their big man seems worse off than the Clippers'. The latest reports on Dwight Howard's knee expect him to miss six to eight weeks, a big blow to a Houston club that is as reliant on its two central stars as the Clippers. However, the Rockets have yet to be grounded without the big ex-Laker, losing just two of eight since his injury. This team can strike quickly in any game with a flurry of threes and free throws, led by MVP candidate James Harden. Houston did play the feisty Suns in Phoenix last night, and some tired legs might provide just the edge the Clippers need.

The Subplots:

  • Comparison of key metrics. Last season, the Rockets played like a lesser version of the Clippers: lots of offense, a modicum of defense. Houston has changed the formula this year, falling from 4th to 12th in offensive efficiency but climbing up to 5th from 12th in defense. When the Clippers have the ball, it will be strength on strength.
  • The Schedule. There's this thing they call the All-Star Game, and it's being played this weekend in New York. Some good players get together so they can dunk and not play a lot of defense, and they do it two nights in a row. The NBA has decided that the players need a week off to do this. The Clippers won't play again until February 19th.
  • Howard-less. Despite losing their anchor, the Rockets haven't lost much on either side of the ball, dropping just 0.5 points on offense and 0.3 points on defense, per 100 possessions. It's not just the schedule either. Yes, they got the Lakers, Celtics, and Bucks, but they also played the Mavericks (before Rajon Rondo and Tyson Chandler went out), the Bulls, the Trail Blazers, and they pasted the Suns last night in Phoenix. Of course, I was writing this yesterday when Zach Lowe went and wrote about the Rockets in his Tuesday column. And, as always, Zach Lowe is a genius and wrote something a million times better than I could ever do. Damn you, Zach Lowe.
  • Lining Up. Hawes has gotten the start in both post-Griffin games, but Doc has varied his minutes depending on the matchup. To wit, Hawes played 35 minutes against the Thunder but just 14 against the Mavs. Like the Dallas game, I like Jamal to get the bulk of the minutes tonight. Barnes can handle the Houston power forwards, and a Clipper lineup with Paul, Redick, and Crawford gives James Harden no place to hide. Harden has improved his defensive effort, but Kevin McHale would surely prefer that his star guard save his energy for the offensive side. The Clippers must seize the opportunity to attack Harden. Fatigue or foul trouble for Harden could spell doom for a Houston club that is short on offensive creativity.
  • Austin Finds A Role. The younger Rivers is getting his chance. His minutes the past four games: 22, 33, 26, 24. His offensive numbers look superficially like those he posted in New Orleans, but he's made a big change on defense. You can see it on the court, but in case you never had the displeasure of watching him prior to his Clipper career, there are two stats the highlight his newfound game: steals and fouls. He has eight steals in four games and has been called for at least four fouls in three of them. He had been called for four or more fouls in just four other games this whole season. In this case, I think the personal fouls reflect positively on Austin. He's playing his ass off. He's pestering opposing point guards. Having a long, physical bench player to wear down the opponent for 20 minutes a night is a luxury, even if it comes at the expense of a few fouls. I say, keep on hackin', Rivers.
  • The Journeyman. I loved Joey Dorsey when he played at Memphis and had hope for him to become a good, solid player when he was drafted early in the second round of the 2008 NBA Draft, so I want to take a moment to shine a light on a player who has traveled a long way round to get back to the NBA. If you're not familiar with the man, he was drafted by Portland and traded to Houston for the draft rights to Nic Batum. He spent most of his time in the D-League, and had only 18 career games with the Rockets and Kings on his resume when he signed with the Raptors and played 43 games in the 2010-2011 season, compiling a respectable 14.22 PER. Then he played in Greece. Then he played in Turkey. Then he played in Spain. Finally, last July, he re-signed with the Rockets, and here he is in the starting lineup. He's undersize, but he plays tough and within the limits of his abilities. I'm glad to see him make it back.
  • Connections. My thanks to Jul for covering these in November... DeAndre Jordan is a Houston native... Rockets SF Trevor Ariza is from Los Angeles and played at Westchester High School with Bobby Brown, who was briefly a Clipper in 2010, and at UCLA... If there's any more, put 'em in the comments.
  • Wikipedia entry. In honor of our (currently) one-armed star, I picked a (permanently) one-armed drummer. "‘Rocket' is a song recorded by English rock band Def Leppard in 1987 from the album Hysteria." It reached the top 15 in the US, despite what Guitar World Magazine voted as the 17th worst guitar solo of all time.  Apparently, the song even includes a brief belch in the final verse. I think it sounds like Van Halen, only if Eddie had three concussions and tried to channel George Harrison's Indian phase. I made it through just one minute of this abomination of a song. Kudos to you if you can handle more.