Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
When: 6:00 p.m. PST
How to watch: TV: Prime Ticket/NBA TV
How to listen: Radio: 570, 1330.
Projected Starting Lineups:
Los Angeles Clippers: Patrick Beverley, Avery Bradley, Tobias Harris, Danilo Gallinari, Marcin Gortat
Houston Rockets: James Ennis, PJ Tucker, Clint Capela, Michael Carter-Williams, James Harden
Clippers: None reported.
Houston: Marquese Chriss (ankle) day-to-day; Nene Hilario (calf), day-to-day; Zhou Qi (ankle), day-to-day; Brandon Knight (knee), out indefinitely; Chris Paul (suspension?) to be determined.
The Big Picture:
The Clippers seek to extend their early season win-streak to two, hosting the Houston Rockets at the Staples Center Sunday night. Los Angeles (1-1), is coming off a solid 108-92 win against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Los Angeles and Houston have developed an intense rivalry in recent years, dating back to the Clippers’ 2015 playoffs collapse and highlighted by last year’s post-game locker-room raid. Chris Paul, Patrick Beverley, Eric Gordon, Montrezl Harrell and Mbah a Moute have each played on both squads, so there is a mutual familiarity between the franchises that makes for some interesting match-ups and strategy implementation. Some of the personality conflicts and bad blood that existed last season have been mitigated with the departures of Trevor Ariza, Austin Rivers, and Blake Griffin, but emotions still have the potential of boiling over when these two teams hit the hardwood.
The Clippers and Rockets split their four games last season.
Houston (1-1) comes to the Clippers on the back end of its first consecutive games of the season. The Rockets beat the Los Angeles Lakers 124-115 in a wild and hard-fought contest on Saturday night, replete with technical fouls, ejections and thrown punches. Relevant to Sunday’s match-up, All-Star Paul is likely facing a multiple-game suspension for his participation in a brawl with Rondo Rajon. Paul is therefore unlikely to suit up against the Clippers, as the suspensions could be announced as early as Sunday.
The Rockets, who finished first in the West last season, have started off slow and slightly unhinged in 2018-19. They decisively lost their season opener to the New Orleans Pelicans 131-112, defensive shortcomings on full display. The Rocket’s interior defense was particularly dismal; the Pelicans outscored Houston by 32 points in the paint.
Against the Lakers, Houston was again outscored in the paint (68 to 52) and at times seemed overly emotional. The Rockets were also sloppy, committing 18 turnovers. Luckily, their effective three-point shooting (38.1%) and a number of key buckets down the stretch saved the day.
The Rockets played well on the back-end of games on consecutive nights last season, winning 10 of 14. Nonetheless, the Clippers should pull this one out.
The Rockets will be physically and emotionally spent after the melee with the Lakers, and will likely be without “Point God” CP3. Paul had an impressive 28 points, 10 assists, and seven boards before his fourth quarter ejection and will be sorely missed by the Rockets in Sunday’s match-up.
With Paul out of the picture, the Clippers’ improved “Clamp City” perimeter defense and consistent bigs should be effective in keeping the remaining Rockets in check. Notably, the Clippers held Oklahoma City to only two points in the game’s final 6 minutes 50 seconds on Friday, and that was without Mr. 94 Feet on the floor. Avery Bradley and forward Luc Mbah a Moute were simply spectacular, and rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was a pleasant surprise, effectively utilizing his length to disrupt the Thunder offense. Still doubt the Clippers’ new identify as a scrappy hard work and hustle team? You may want to talk to Paul George, who had to heave up 27 shots to score 20 points in Friday’s contest.
Of course, to beat the Rockets the Clippers also have to find ways to score. The old adage “defense wins games” only goes so far. The Clippers will need solid performances out of key guys like Harris, Gallinari, and Lou Williams, and meaningful contributions from Gilgeous-Alexander and the Clipper bigs Gortat, Harrell, and Boban Marjanovic, particularly down the stretch. Harris has been exceptional to date, scoring a double-double for the second straight game with 26 points and 10 rebounds against the Thunder. Danilo Gallinari also impressed with 26 points. Hopefully the duo’s high level of play will continue to lead this Clipper team to victory.