Where Are We?
Today's game finally marks the end of the horrific gauntlet of opponents the Clippers have faced over the past month-plis. Back in late January, I noted that going .500 over that 22-game stretch would not be unexpected or even underachieving, considering the caliber of opposition. I hadn't accounted for injuries to Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford, so that makes their 11-10 record coming into today's finale against the Rockets a bit more impressive. To give you a sense of just how challenging that stretch was, the Clippers' SOS even before today's game is a league-leading .523.
Thankfully, after today, the end-of-season schedule drops off a cliff, and now Los Angeles has a prime opportunity to start a nice winning streak. But that starts with a victory today over Houston, who the Clippers have historically dominated in the James Harden era. In their last meeting, sans Griffin, Harden finally got his first victory over the Clips since leaving Oklahoma City (the Rockets won a matchup in 2013 in a game he sat out). Despite that win, his struggles against the better Los Angeles team continue — even this season, his 15.3 PPG against the Clippers are the lowest of any team he's faced.
If the season ended today, the Clippers might not like a 2nd round showdown with Golden State or Oklahoma City, but having Houston as their first round opponent in the 4-5 slot would be extremely welcome (certainly more than the same scenario, but with San Antonio instead). If Los Angeles had won their previous game against Dallas (which unfortunately was their worst defensive result of the season, bumping them down two spots in the defensive efficiency rankings as the Mavericks scored almost 1.4 points per possession), winning this game would have given them the 4th seed too, but for now, they'll content themselves with winning the season series. Unfortunately, the 2nd and 3rd seeds are a little further out of reach; both Portland and Memphis have four fewer losses than the Clippers with less than 20 games remaining, and also hold an unassailable tiebreaker by leading their respective divisions (something the Clips obviously cannot counter).
Also of interest, Blake Griffin might return today, although we won't get word until gametime approaches. He's been upgraded from OUT to QUESTIONABLE, and should hopefully return to the court by Tuesday at the latest. In his absence the Clippers have gone 9-6, and Chris Paul has played like an MVP candidate — despite playing through a hurt knee for the last week. Meanwhile, Jamal Crawford is still out for the foreseeable future with a calf injury similar to the one that plagued him around this time last year.
- Today's game is the last for the Clippers on ESPN or ABC for the rest of the regular season; three TNT broadcasts remain versus Golden State, the Lakers, and Phoenix, as well as a few spots on NBA TV.
- James Harden and Steph Curry continue to vie for the MVP in what has become a neck-and-neck race with a furious Russell Westbrook charging hard from behind, most likely futilely. Harden's had poor showings in each of his last two games, losses to Portland and Utah.
- Dwight Howard has yet to play against the Clippers this season, having missed more than half of the Rockets' games this year. He projects to return within the next week or two.
- Connections (lifted from today's Clippers media notes): Clippers forward Hedo Turkoglu and Rockets center Dwight Howard were teammates for six-plus seasons in Orlando (2004-05, part of 2010-11, 2011-12)… Clippers guard J.J. Redick and Howard were teammates for six seasons in Orlando (2007-12)... Clippers forward Glen Davis and Howard were teammates for the 2011-12 season in Orlando... Clippers forward Matt Barnes and Howard were teammates for the 2009-10 season in Orlando... Barnes and Rockets forward Trevor Ariza were teammates for part of the 2005-06 season in New York... Clippers guard Jamal Crawford and Ariza were teammates for more than one season (2004-05, part of 2005-06)... Clippers guard Chris Paul and Ariza were teammates for the 2010-11 season in New Orleans... Clippers guard Nate Robinson and Ariza were teammates for the 2005-06 and part of the 2006-07 seasons in New York... Jamal Crawford and Rockets forward Josh Smith were teammates for two seasons in Atlanta (2009-11)... Dahntay Jones and Rockets forward Francisco Garcia were teammates for the 2007-08 season in Sacramento... Clippers center Spencer Hawes and Garcia were teammates for three seasons in Sacramento (2007-10)... Hawes and Rockets forward-center Joey Dorsey were teammates for part of the 2009-10 season in Sacramento... Rockets head coach Kevin McHale coached Clippers assistant Sam Cassell in the same capacity for part of the 2003-04 season in Minnesota...
- Wikipedia: Rocket, also known as Buscapé ("Firecracker") was the main narrator in the 2002 Brazilian film, City of God. A quiet, honest boy who dreams of becoming a photographer, and the only character who seems to keep from being dragged down into corruption and murder during the gang wars.