clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

NBA Playoffs 2015 Second Round Clippers-Rockets Series Preview

After the most impressive and emotional game and series in franchise history against the defending champions, the Clippers have no time to look back and must focus on the task at hand.

Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

2015 NBA Playoffs
Second Round


Series Schedule
Game 1 - Mon May 4, 6:30 p.m., TNT, Houston, TOYOTA Center
Game 2 - Wed May 6, 6:30 p.m., TNT, Houston, TOYOTA Center
Game 3 - Fri May 8, 7:30 p.m., Los Angeles, STAPLES Center
Game 4 - Sun May 10, 5:30 p.m., Los Angeles, STAPLES Center
Game 5*  Tue May 12, Time TBD, TNT, Houston, TOYOTA Center
Game 6*  Thu May 14, Time TBD, TNT, Los Angeles, STAPLES Center
Game 7* Sat May 16, Time TBD, TNT, Houston, TOYOTA Center
* if necessary
Win-Loss Breakdown
19-11 East 23-7
37-15 West 33-19
30-11 Home 30-11
26-15 Road 26-15
19-22 .500+ 21-21
37-4 .500- 35-5
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Jason Terry
J.J. Redick SG James Harden
Matt Barnes SF Trevor Ariza
Blake Griffin PF Terrence Jones
DeAndre Jordan C Dwight Howard
Key Reserves
Austin Rivers PG Pablo Prigioni
Jamal Crawford SG Nick Johnson
Hedo Turkoglu SF Corey Brewer
Glen Davis PF Josh Smith
Spencer Hawes C Clint Capela
Advanced Stats 2014-2015 Regular Season
96.96 (11th of 30) Pace 99.25 (2nd of 30)
109.8 (1st of 30) ORtg 104.2 (12th of 30)
103.0 (15th of 30) DRtg 100.5 (6th of 30)
Chris Paul (hamstring) questionable
Patrick Beverley (wrist surgery) out
Glen Davis (ankle) probable
Donatas Motiejunas (back) out

K.J. McDaniels (wrist) out

The Back Story (The teams split the season series 2-2):

Date Venue Final

Clippers 102, Rockets 85
Box Score
Los Angeles
Clippers 110, Rockets 95
Box Score
Rockets 110, Clippers 105
Box Score
Los Angeles
Rockets 100, Clippers 98
Box Score

The Big Picture:

Do you want the good news or the bad news? The good news is that the Clippers are in the second round of the NBA Playoffs after knocking off the defending NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs in the only first round series that was the least bit competitive. Oh, and to say that the Clippers-Spurs series was more competitive than the others is akin to saying that the Pacific Ocean is a larger body of water than others in or around southern California. So the Clippers are battle-tested and playing well to say the least. The bad news is that the player most responsible for getting them past the Spurs is listed as questionable after pulling a hamstring in Game 7. My guess is that Chris Paul sits out Game 1 and then tries to play beginning with Game 2. But playing and playing well are different things, and while it is unimaginable to me that Paul would miss much of this series, there's no guarantee that he can conjure the miracle he pulled off in Game 7 where he went for 27 points on 13 shots, including a game winner, playing on one leg. With a healthy Paul, there's little question in my mind that the Clippers are the better team. Sure, they split four games on the season, but the Clippers outscored the Rockets by 25 in the those games, winning twice in laughers and losing twice in nail biters. Advanced stats, head to head, on paper -- I look at this and I come out with the Clippers ahead on almost every count. But all of that assumes a (relatively) healthy Chris Paul.

The Antagonist:

The Rockets are a tough team to figure. They have an MVP candidate in James Harden who is a prolific scorer and disinterested defender, yet it was their defensive efficiency that was top five on the regular season while their offense was middle of the pack. Their other superstar, Dwight Howard, was hurt much of the season missing 41 games while playing in 41 -- yet their record was not significantly different with or without him (29-12 with, 27-14 without). We know they follow the analytics book to the letter, setting an NBA record by attempting an astonishing 33 three pointers per game, yet they shoot worse than 35% on those threes, a bit below the NBA average. They faced a wounded and dysfunctional Dallas squad in the first round, winning in five games -- but those Mavericks weren't putting up a lot of fight. I'm not a big believer in this Rockets team -- but I've certainly been wrong before.

The Subplots:

Threes, threes, threes. It's truly breathtaking how many threes this Houston team shoots, The Clippers heavily emphasize the three ball and take it whenever it's there. The Rockets took 478 more threes during the season than the Clippers did. They have six players in their playoff rotation who took more than four and half threes per 36 minutes during the regular season -- the Clippers have three, and remember, the Clippers shoot a LOT of threes. Knowing that they want to take that shot is an advantage -- it means running them off of it. At the same time, maybe you're not so upset when Josh Smith (.33 with the Rockets, .285 for his career) or Corey Brewer (.284/.290) or Pablo Prigioni (.275/.398) takes that shot. Like I said, strange team. Closing out on the truly dangerous shooters (Harden, Terry, Ariza) while funneling the ball to the other guys is the way to go, but it's easier said than done.

Fouls, fouls, fouls. We'll see how the respective coaches play it, but if intentional fouls off the ball is your cup of tea, there is no shortage of targets in this game. DeAndre Jordan is of course the biggest target in the league right now -- he's a dominant defender and rebounder who shoots 40% from the line, so teams have plenty of incentive to foul him and force Doc Rivers' hand. Meanwhile, Houston's Dwight Howard was the league's main target before DeAndre began to dominate, and if Kevin McHale wants to take Howard out he's looking at guys like Joey Dorsey and Clint Capela who are much, much worse (in small sample sizes) than even Jordan. Doc has never been much into intentional fouls, but Kevin McHale has used it against Jordan before, so we'll see. Maybe a four hour foulfest is just what we need to get the NBA to change the rules.

Fouls, fouls, fouls part 2. The three commandments in the analytics Bible are Thou shalt shoot threes, Thou shalt shoot layups and Though shalt get to the free throw line -- and James Harden is freakin' Moses to Daryl Morey's burning bush (stop laughing). Harden averaged 10 free throw attempts per 36 minutes on the season, and that's not because teams are fouling him intentionally. In the one good game he had against the Clippers this season, he was 17-18 from the line. Keeping Harden off the line is going to be a huge factor in this series.

The point guard matchup. Rarely does an NBA Playoff series feature so one-sided a matchup as this one, assuming Paul is anywhere near full strength. The Rockets were suspect at the point before Patrick Beverley was lost for the rest of the season -- now the depth chart shows Jason Terry and Pablo Prigioni as the guys playing opposite of Chris Paul. Having said that, in a post-positional NBA universe, it may not matter a lot. On offense Harden has the ball almost constantly for the Rockets, and defensively they'll put one of their long limbed wings (Trevor Ariza or Corey Brewer) on Paul. Of course, Terry has to defend somebody.

Redick out of jail. J.J. Redick is probably the happiest guy on the team to be past the Spurs. Against San Antonio Redick faced a steady diet of either Kawhi Leonard (the NBA's DPOY) or Danny Green (almost as good as Kawhi). But unless Houston plays Brewer and Ariza together (which they will some for sure) Redick is going to be seeing a much different class of defender this series. Even Brewer and Ariza, who are both very good, are not Leonard and Green.

Dwight Howard. In four meetings this season, the Clippers did not once face Dwight Howard. As I mentioned, the Rockets weren't appreciably better on the season with Howard than they were without him -- but it's also worth mentioning that Howard has looked healthier in the post-season than he did during the season. DeAndre Jordan has sort of taken over Howard's spot in the NBA hierarchy as the dominant rebounder/defender among traditional centers -- but Howard isn't going to take that challenge lightly in this series. This is going to be a tremendous challenge for Jordan, and an opportunity to truly show people that he's now the man at the five spot.

Griffin. While Howard never played against the Clippers this season, Blake Griffin only played twice against the Rockets, one of those coming in his first game back from elbow surgery when he was understandably rusty. In the one game in which Griffin was healthy, he went for 30/10 in 31 minutes. No one on Houston's roster other than Howard can handle him and he could have a field day in this series.

Regular season meetings. In four meetings this season, the Rockets won once when Blake Griffin was out, and once in his first game back when he was rusty and ineffective, that victory coming by a mere two points. Now, it's also true that the Rockets were without Howard in all four games, so the teams have rarely seen each other at full strength.

Handling Harden. Harden struggled mightily against the Clippers this season, shooting under 35% which was his worst percentage against any Western Conference opponent. Having said that, it's hard to explain; it's not like the Clippers have anyone that truly locks Harden down. But Doc Rivers' schemes have been pretty successful at limiting dominant scorers this season, and given a seven series to game plan against the Beard, I could see the Clippers continue to give Harden trouble. If they can keep him off the line, I don't think the Clippers are going to let Harden beat them.

Austin Rivers. Believe it or not, I think Austin Rivers is going to be huge in this series. There's the obvious issue of him being Chris Paul's backup. It's almost unimaginable that Paul will be able to play the 40-plus minutes per night from the first series, even if he does play and play well. So Rivers is certainly going to get more playing time and will need to deliver. Over and above that, he may be among the best options defensively on Harden. Rivers has decent size and does a good job of staying in front of players. He'll get his shot at Harden for sure, and if he does well, he'll play big minutes in the series.

Spencer Hawes. A forgotten man against the Spurs (deservedly so) Hawes may be called on against the Rockets. If DeAndre Jordan finds himself in foul trouble or is forced to the bench by Bang-the-DJ, Hawes may have to defend Howard. Glen Davis would give it a good effort, but he'd be giving away so much length it would be a big problem. So Hawes may yet have a chance to make an impact in the postseason.

Connections: There are no former Rockets on the Clippers and there are no former Clippers on the Rockets. Clippers Hedo Turkoglu and J.J. Redick got valuable playoff experience alongside Rockets center Dwight Howard in Orlando. DeAndre Jordan was born and raised in the Houston area and went to High School in the suburb of Humble. James Harden was born and raised in the L.A. area, and went to High School at Artesia High in Lakewood. Trevor Ariza and Matt Barnes are both UCLA small forwards, but Ariza's one season in Westwood came a couple years after Barnes left. Ariza played his High School ball at Westchester. Both the Rockets and the Clippers were once located in San Diego -- the Rockets were there for four seasons from 1967 to 1971 and the Clippers lasted six seasons from 1978 until 1984.