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Game Preview: Houston Rockets at Los Angeles Clippers

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The Clippers face off against the Houston Rockets for the third time this season, hoping to get their first win against Clutch City.

Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

2015-16 NBA Regular Season
@
Houston Rockets (21-20)

Los Angeles Clippers (26-14)
January 16, 2016 — 7:30 PM PT
STAPLES Center (Los Angeles, California)
Prime Ticket, CSN-CA, The Beast 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Projected Starters
Jason Terry PG Chris Paul
James Harden SG J.J. Redick
Trevor Ariza SF Luc Richard Mbah a Moute
Clint Capela PF Paul Pierce
Dwight Howard C Cole Aldrich
Efficiency Stats ('15-'16)
96.6 (9th of 30) Pace 96.2 (11th of 30)
106.0 (8th of 30) OffRtg 107.4 (5th of 30)
107.2 (20th of 30) DefRtg 103.7 (10th of 30)
-1.2 NetRtg +3.7
Injury Report
Patrick Beverley GTD
DeAndre Jordan

OUT
Blake Griffin

The first time the teams played, November 7th, 2015, a botched goaltending call with 20 seconds remaining tainted a competitive match.  Down two points, Blake Griffin shot a potential game-tying shot, which Dwight Howard touched while the ball was on the rim. In the game the referees did not call the infraction rendering a replay meaningless. The NBA ruled the following day the refs missed the call.

The second time the teams played, December 19th, 2015, the Rockets dominated nearly the entire game. At one point the Rockets offensive rebounds outnumbered the entire Clipper rebounding total. However, early in the third quarter, the Clippers employed Hack-a-Howard and Foul-a-Capela to diminish the Houston lead to eleven, stirring the intentional fouling debate pot. Houston won convincingly in the end.

Of course, many on ClipsNation remember - or intentionally forgot - last season's seven-game series.  Rockets vs. Clippers game never lack star power, plot twists, and surprising strong performances from supporting actors.

The Big Short

With center DeAndre Jordan missing the past two games, the Clippers frontcourt depth appeared a concern, with Cole Aldrich and Josh Smith as the only traditional bigs. With larger roles, the two tested well, forcing both the Miami Heat and the Sacramento Kings under their points-in-the-paint season averages. Both opponents shot about 7-percent worse in the paint than usual.

Playing extremely well in the starters role is Cole Aldrich, averaging 18-points, 8.5-rebounds, and 3 steals/blocks-per-game. While offensively a dud, Josh Smith holds the best defensive rating on the team over the past two games at 88.

With Aldrich or Smith at center, the Clippers rebound poorly, grabbing only 47-percent of rebounds the last two games. The struggles look to continue against the Rockets. While most of the league plays a stretch-four, the Rockets start two orthodox, near-the-basket oriented bigs in Clint Capela and Dwight Howard. Howard averages 14.2-points-per-game and 11.9-rebounds. Capela averages 7.4-points and 7-rebounds. When playing together, the tandem grabs an astounding 57.6-percent of available rebounds playing together, higher than the league best team mark held by the Spurs at 53-percent.

Bridge of Spies

Previously a member of the Houston Rockets, Pablo Prigioni's recently increased role provided the Clippers' bench a stabilizing force - and also a bit of a thief. Prigioni accomplished something never been done before in NBA history two games ago - a player in 15 minutes or less stole the ball eight times or more. Prigioni calls himself the "invisible man," and the Heat certainly were blind to his presence.

The Rockets better take note of Prigioni when the Clippers are on offense as well. Since Christmas, when Prigioni's role increased, he's produced a true-shooting percentage of 84.4-percent. At 2.6-per-game, Pablo is also third on the team in assists since Christmas.

Fury Road

The Clippers recent 10-game winning streak pitted the Clippers against only three playoff teams. The remaining eight games in January will be tougher. The Clippers play six playoff teams according to current seeding: Rockets, Cavaliers, Raptors, Pacers, Hawks and Bulls. Thrown in between is a game at Madison Square Garden against the Knicks and another game against the Staples Center, lease co-signing Lakers.

On the season, the Clippers hold the 4th easiest according to ESPN. Against teams with sub-.500, the Clippers are 20-4. Playing teams above-.500, the Clippers are an underwhelming 6-10.

The Rockets schedule ranks 16th in the NBA. A team with such high expectations at the start of the year, the Rockets have played poorly against teams with losing records, posting a meager 13-8. Facing teams with winning records, the Rockets are 8-12.

The Martian

JB Bickerstaff -- who knows long he survives as the Rockets' head coach -- but since he's taken over, the Rockets resemble last year's team a little more. The Rockets improvement may be caused by a regression to the mean. But, before he took over, they were terrible. Pre-Bickerstaff the team was 4-7. The team's offensive rating was 6th worst in the league at 98.3. With Bickertstaff the team is 16-13 and playing with the 6th best offense in the league, with a rating of 105.3

Clippers fan may relate to an issue Rocket fans are dealing with as Bickerstaff coaches - rotation inconsistencies. Throughout the season, Marcus Thronton (10-points-per-game and 35-percent from three) started, played sixth man, to Coach-DNP's for zero reason despite outperforming expectations. Corey Brewer's (7-points-per-game) playtime is debated as undeserving. Finally, both Terrence Jones (9.9-points-per-game and 4.9-rebounds) and Donatas Motiejunas (5.6-points-per-game and 2.1-rebounds) fight for playtime as the backup power forward.

The Revenant

James Harden, much like the Rockets, started off poorly. Now, he's playing better. The Beard is scoring a career best 28-points-per-game, trailing only Steph Curry this season. He leads the league in free throws made and attempted. He also leads the league by far in amount of isolation possessions, but ranks in the 65th percentile, scoring 0.91 points-per-possession. Harden's simply a do-it-all player, points, rebounds and assists. Harden's not positionally a point-guard but the most ball dominant player on the team.

Room

In Blake's leave of absence, the Clippers offense spaces the floor better with J.J. Redick turning into the second scoring option. Redick, now the league leader in three-point shooting percentage, is shooting a 55-percent from deep and 96-percent from the line in the past ten games.

Paul Pierce averages 5.6 attempts from deep starting in Griffin's place, making 40-percent of them. Austin Rivers and Chris Paul are 40-percent and 37-percent from deep respectively over the stretch. As a team, the clippers shoot five more three's per game with Griffin out of the lineup. Basically, the team has been a firestorm from behind the arc. Houston allows the 4th most three-point attempts.

Houston, on offense, broke the record for three-point attempts last year. This year, they lead the league again, shooting about 30 on average each game. The deep ball will fly this game.

Spotlight

Media shines brighter lights on superstars. If you didn't see, James Harden had another light shine on him against the Jazz two weeks ago.

Brooklyn

To round out all academy award nominated films, Editor-in-Chief Lucas Hann wrote a nice article explaining possible scenarios with a Clippers second round pick and Brooklyn in the upcoming 2016 draft.