The Big Picture
The Clippers earned themselves a rather important victory on Sunday night, but it sure wasn’t easy. Despite coming in as one of the coldest teams in basketball, the Hornets gave the Clippers all they could handle, and it took gargantuan efforts from each of the big four just to squeeze that one out.
Blake Griffin played his best game of his abbreviated season in that one, finishing with a season-high 43 points to go along with 10 rebounds, five assists and a pair of steals. Chris Paul also came within a rebound of a triple-double without turning the ball over one time.
If the Clips have real aspirations of catching Houston for that coveted No. 3 seed, the bench is going to have to contribute far more than they did on Sunday night. The reserves have been stepping up all season long, so it isn’t much to ask of them to just play better than they did against Charlotte.
With the Rockets in town tonight, LAC has a golden opportunity to start making some headway. The gap between the clubs is five games heading into this one, and there are still two head-to-head meetings to go before the regular season ends. Catching the Rockets means potentially avoiding the Warriors until the Western Conference Finals, so there’s plenty of impetus for the Clips to make a surge here.
By now, you know the deal with this Rockets team. James Harden is the one that churns the butter, and the front office has effectively surrounded him with sharpshooters all over the floor. It only took years, but Daryl Morey was finally able to find the right coach for both Harden and Moreyball in Mike D’Antoni.
D’Antoni said (in jest) following last week’s thrashing of the Pelicans (during which the Rockets took an NBA record 61 threes) that he wants the Rockets to average 50 three-pointers a game for the remainder of the season. We think he said that in jest, anyway. Houston would go on to chuck a whopping 58 threes in a win over the TImberwolves later that week, and another 45 in the recent loss to the Pacers.
Prior to this season, no team in NBA history had even attempted 50 threes in a single game. The Rockets have done that seven times this season alone. They certainly have the personnel to do it, and they haven’t been shy about letting loose.
The Rockets have five of the top 16 players in the league this season in made three-pointers. James Harden, Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson, Trevor Ariza and new acquisition Lou Williams have been making it rain from the heavens all year long.
The Rockets and Clips have only met once thus far this season, and it was a game the Clippers were without both Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. They actually stuck around for three quarters on the shoulders of a huge game from Raymond Felton, only to see Houston turn on the jets in the fourth and win 140-116.
These teams have matched up incredibly closely in recent years, so it’ll be fascinating to see the difference in styles come face-to-face in this one.
Stopping the Rockets
Houston only attempted 40 threes the last time these teams squared-off, making 14 (35 percent). So far, there hasn’t been a team out there that has really whipped up a viable way to attack this team defensively. They take so many threes (and long threes, at that), that there really isn’t much to be done.
It starts with walling off James Harden’s path to the rim. Houston’s offense really only consists of one play, and that’s a high screen-and-roll for The Beard. He’ll knife his way into the paint before gauging his options. Either he’ll find one of his three shooters open from beyond the long line, hit the roll man (usually Clint Capela) for an easy bucket, or try to finish at the rim himself. That’s really it.
It also certainly helps if the Rockets are just cold, as they were the other night against Indiana. The Pacers actually outgunned the Rockets from deep by a 13-10 margin, but it wasn’t for lack of trying from Houston’s perspective. The Rockets jacked 45 threes, but they just weren’t falling. Harden, Ariza and Patrick Beverley combined to hit just 2 of their 20 tries. That isn’t going to be getting it done.
Taking advantage of them defensively
As a Mike D’Antoni team, you know the Rockets aren’t exactly committed to racking up defensive stops every time down the floor. There are some glaring weaknesses on this team defensively, most notably at the power forward spot.
Ryan Anderson logs most of the minutes for Houston at the four, and that is an exploitable matchup for Griffin and the Clips. Anderson doesn’t have a clue what he’s doing on that side of the floor, and it would behoove the Clippers to attack that matchup relentlessly and try to force Houston to adjust.
Anderson simply doesn’t have the mobility or the strength to keep up with Griffin, and there isn’t anyone on that roster outside of Nene that would even appear to have a prayer of slowing him down. Expect another huge game from Blake if the Clippers are going to come out on the winning end.
The Fancy Table
Game Day Song of Choice
Behold the greatness of Future Islands and their extremely weird lead singer:
Alright, let’s do this! The path to the No. 3 seed starts tonight at 7:30pm PT. You can catch the game locally on Prime Ticket or nationally on ESPN.