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Clippers vs. Rockets Final Score: Houston blows out LA in preseason opener, 109-97

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Terance Mann looked good in his Clippers debut, but James Harden was already in midseason form.

Houston Rockets v Los Angeles Clippers Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

The Clippers lost to the Houston Rockets 109-97 in their first preseason game in Hawaii. The Rockets were led by James Harden’s 37 points and Clint Capela’s 11 rebounds. Meanwhile, Montrezl Harrell had 17 points for the Clippers, and rookie Terance Mann had a team-high 9 rebounds.

FIRST QUARTER:

The Clippers coaches are wearing Hawaiian shirts. This was important to me, and I would assume it instantly makes the Clippers fan favorites. My one quibble is there are so many coaches that they should have mixed up the patterns a little bit. Brian Sieman and Chauncey Billups have this figured out.

Doc Rivers throws a bit of a curveball with the starting lineup with Jerome Robinson in place of Rodney McGruder, who had been with the first unit during the practice runs during training camp. The offense has to work very hard in this current configuration. No individual player really has the juice to get past his man one on one, so the team has to run a lot of dribble handoffs to generate mismatches. The good thing is the energy is high and they’re running hard into the handoffs. Ivica Zubac is also doing a good job of positioning himself well in the post. The pass always look perfect when a player knows where to be, and his finishing looks improved after an offseason to recover from his hand injuries.

The upside to using an unconventional starting five is the second unit looks like a real lineup we might see during the regular season: Terance Mann, Lou Williams, McGruder, JaMychal Green, and Montrezl Harrell. The ball movement looks good, even though the shots aren’t falling, and Uncle Lou is in full form with Mann, chatting him up during every stoppage.

On the whole, the Clippers are suffering here because they were far too foul-happy to start the quarter, and the Rockets are living in the bonus. It definitely feels like a little rust because none of those were hard fouls. The Clippers are really getting into it on defense; Beverley and Harkless have had nice sequences on James Harden. Harkless’ skill as a wing defender really presents an embarrassment of riches for this team. Clippers trail 31-22.

SECOND QUARTER:

Lou is settling in quite nicely. Missing his first jumper going left was clearly an aberration.

On the other hand, James Harden is taking this seriously. He is indisputably the best player on the floor, and he is acting like it, with 20 points in the first half. Mann is getting a chance to play as a real point guard, though his activity on the glass is probably what stands out the most. That makes sense considering Mann functioned as a forward at Florida State.

Harrell made a couple nice passes out of the short roll, but his teammates haven’t knocked down the open looks yet.

Amir Coffey got his first minutes ahead of Mfiondu Kabengele. It’s accepted that Mann is ahead of Kabengele on the depth chart, but Coffey shouldn’t be. He’s probably just in as a result of Jerome Robinson’s foul trouble, though that seems like a weird thing to worry about during preseason. Clippers trail 57-40.

THIRD QUARTER:

Mann and McGruder get the nod in place of Beverley and Robinson to start the second half. The Clippers are already down 17, and Doc Rivers was never going to play for a win today. Then again, the team calls time about a minute into the quarter because Houston is scoring a little too easily.

Instead of weaving around the perimeter, this new lineup is doing a lot of driving and kicking. The passes feel like they’re flying all over the place, but the movement is doing its job of rotating the defense. McGruder is really starting to pop right now — he just hustles. He also earned the jump ball that led to a Shamet slam. (I’m torn whether the appropriate term here is Slam-et or Jam-et).

But this is Mann’s quarter. He is really showing off his length and quickness getting into the lane, and he gets the one big highlight to boot. It’s becoming clear why everyone was raving about Mann heading into camp; he looks more ready for this moment that would be expected from a second-round pick. Clippers trail 89-65.

FOURTH QUARTER:

Derrick Walton Jr. is now getting his turn to run the offense, and he just knows how to play point guard. There is the obvious caveat that the Rockets are playing mostly G Leaguers, but Walton looks comfortable. The Clippers should be confident in his ability to run a real offense in Agua Caliente this season.

Sieman has said “Coffey to the cup” twice now and claims both times have been inadvertent. I think he should just embrace the phrase.

The bench has been fully emptied as Fi and Motley come in for Harrell and Green. The entire bench is ready to erupt for Fi’s first basket, but he misses the corner three. Unfortunately, those first NBA points will have to wait as Kabengele and Beverley end the game as the only Clippers not to score. Clippers lose 109-97.