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Clippers vs. Rockets Preview: LA seeks a road win as Chris Paul returns for Houston

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The Clippers get another break against the shorthanded Rockets, who welcome back Chris Paul but are without James Harden.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Los Angeles Clippers Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Game Information:

Where: Toyota Center, Houston, TX

When: 5:00 p.m. PST

How to watch: Fox Sports Prime Ticket, AM 570

Projected Starting Lineups:

LA Clippers: Patrick Beverley, Avery Bradley, Tobias Harris, Danilo Gallinari, Marcin Gortat

Houston Rockets: Chris Paul, Eric Gordon, Carmelo Anthony, P.J. Tucker, Clint Capela

Injuries:

Clippers: None

Rockets: James Harden (hamstring) - out, James Ennis III (hamstring) - out

The Big Picture:

In their last outing, the Clippers were competitive with New Orleans for most of the game, even holding a lead at halftime against the undefeated Pelicans, but a disastrous third-quarter stretch left them in too big of a hole to emerge with a victory. LA has had two days off to prepare to face the Rockets for the second time this week, and would love to collect its first road win of the season in the process. In terms of rest, the schedule has been relatively comfortable for the Clippers thus far, but this will be the fifth consecutive game they play against a Western Conference playoff team. Two of those opponents have been missing their star guards, however.

The Antagonist:

Houston faced the Clippers on Sunday without Chris Paul, who was suspended for that contest, but he will return to the lineup today. His presence is much needed for the Rockets, who are without the services of James Harden. The reigning MVP injured his hamstring in Wednesday’s loss to Utah and will sit out Houston’s next two games. Harden was not terribly efficient against the Clippers, but he still dominated the offense; replacing him with Paul will be a downgrade.

The Rockets are also without James Ennis III, their starting forward who also injured his hamstring earlier this week. Ennis was the primary defender on Tobias Harris in the teams’ first meeting, and that responsibility now falls to either Michael Carter-Williams or Carmelo Anthony, not exactly a pick-your-poison type of situation. Carter-Williams got the start in place of Ennis against the Jazz and was miserable, leading head coach Mike D’Antoni to suggest that Anthony may get the nod versus LA.

What to watch for:

  • Houston is traditionally among the league leaders in getting to the foul line, but the Clippers held them to only 15 free-throw attempts in Sunday’s game, bolstered by solid rim protection and likely a little home-court advantage. Even though the Rockets won’t generate as many free throws without Harden, LA shouldn’t expect to be as fortunate in this department at the Toyota Center.
  • The starting backcourt of Patrick Beverley and Avery Bradley acquitted themselves well defensively in the first matchup, and will have a similarly tough challenge against Eric Gordon and now Paul in place of Harden. Presumably, Beverley will draw the primary assignment on Paul in the first time the two have faced each other since they were traded for one another (and several additional players) last June. The Clippers backcourt has earned its role with strong efforts on defense, and that will have to continue.
  • The Clippers lost the 3-point battle pretty convincingly in Sunday’s game, 15-5. The team has only made 29 threes total in four games this season. If LA continues to shoot that poorly, they will difficulty matching the Rockets’ firepower, particularly given that role players tend to shoot better at home. Hopefully, the absence of Harden will allow the Clippers to stay close to shooters instead of collapsing into the paint.
  • Montrezl Harrell had his best game of the year in the last contest against the Rockets, emboldened by going up against a small lineup that allowed him to use his energy and activity to the fullest. He was similarly effective against New Orleans and will have another opportunity to excel against Houston. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was also impressive in Sunday’s game, but he struggled against the athletic Pelicans guards. It will interesting to see if that was a one-game blip or if he returns to form.