The Los Angeles Clippers will continue their playoff push against the Houston Rockets Wednesday night at the Staples Center. The Clippers won the last contest between the franchises back in January, in game that had all the edge and enmity of an elimination playoff game.
When: Wednesday, February 28, 2018 — 7:30 p.m. (PT)
Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: Fox Sports Prime Ticket
Radio: AM 570 L.A. Sports
Clippers: (G) Tyrone Wallace, (G) Austin Rivers, (F) Tobias Harris, (F) Wesley Johnson, (C) DeAndre Jordan
Rockets: (G) James Harden, (G) Chris Paul, (F) Trevor Ariza, (F) P.J. Tucker, (C) Tarik Black
Patrick Beverley (right knee surgery) OUT
Jawun Evans (sore lower abdominal) OUT
Avery Bradley (athletic pubalgia) OUT
Danilo Gallinari (right hand contusion/sprain) OUT
Ryan Anderson (sore right hip flexor) OUT
Brandan Wright (sore right knee) OUT
Clint Capela (illness) QUESTIONABLE
THE BIG PICTURE:
Tuesday night the 32-27 Clippers overcame a 19-point third quarter deficit to beat the 33-28 Denver Nuggets, 122-120, sliding back into the eighth seed for the playoffs and securing a season-series advantage over Denver. Twenty-four hours later, the Clippers face the conference-leading Houston Rockets (47-13) in the back-end of a back-to-back at Staples Center. Be prepared, as it may not end well; the Clippers are 2-7 in the second game of back-to-backs this season.
The last time these two teams met was back in January. The Clippers earned the 115-102 win that night, with their intense and scrappy play, spoiling any plans former Clipper All-Star Chris Paul may have had of showing up his ex-teammates.
The animosity between Paul and now departed Clipper power forward Blake Griffin was palpable throughout the game (as was the animosity between Griffin and Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni and Griffin and Rockets center Trevor Ariza) making for some very entertaining moments. Among other things, Paul called Griffin a “b*tch”, D’Antoni and Griffin were given technicals after some body contact and mouthing off, and Griffin and Ariza were tossed in the 4th quarter for not being able to keep their tempers in check. Griffin left the floor to a standing ovation, tossing his jersey into the crowd. It was quite electric.
Equally as fantastic was the degree to which Austin Rivers was able to get under the skin of Rockets players, including Ariza, with his constant jawing while on the sideline in a suit and boot. Rivers was so effective at disrupting the Rockets’ mental game that he inspired a number of Rockets players to storm the Clippers’ locker room post-game, in an attempt to start a good old-fashioned rumble.
Wednesday’s game will differ in tone - and probably outcome - for two main reasons. First, the Clippers no longer have Griffin on their roster, having traded the power forward to the Detroit Pistons. With Griffin gone, a main antagonist has been removed from the game equation. Second, presumed MVP James Harden will be on the floor this go-around. Harden did not play in the earlier match-up against Los Angeles due to a hamstring injury, but since his return the game after that one, the Rockets have gone a remarkable 17-1. Harden’s offensive presence alone may keep an otherwise rowdy Los Angeles crowd in check.
As noted, the Rockets are on a roll, winning 17 of their last 18 games. The backcourt of Paul and Harden is absolutely lethal and will prove difficult for the Clippers’ lackluster perimeter defenders to handle, particularly without Beverely, Bradley or Evans available. Harden is averaging a league-high 31.4 points per game on 44.9 percent shooting, along with 5.2 rebounds and 8.9 assists. Paul is averaging 19.1 points per game, on 46.7 percent shooting, along with 5.8 rebounds and 8.2 assists. The Clippers’ guards unfortunately don’t match up, and this mis-match will be incredibly difficult to overcome.
Wednesday’s match-up may not be as exciting as the last time these franchises met, but it will still be worth watching. It is a classic David verses Goliath contest, with the winningest team in the league facing a “Bad News Bears”-esque assemblage of underdogs who are trying to maintain playoff eligibility. The Clippers will need exceptional play from sharp shooter Lou Williams and DeAndre Jordan, and 48-minutes of incredible defense from Tyrone Wallace and Austin Rivers to pull off this upset.