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Clippers Vs. Rockets Preview: Threes, Beards, Beefs, and Championship Threats

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With both teams at 7-3, both the Clippers and Rockets could do themselves a favor with a win tonight.

Houston Rockets v Los Angeles Clippers Photo by Jay Metzger/NBAE via Getty Images

Game Information

Where: Toyota Center, Houston, TX

When: 4:30 PM PT

How to Watch: ESPN, Fox Sports Prime Ticket, AM 570

Projected Starting Lineups

Clippers: Patrick Beverley, Kawhi Leonard, Maurice Harkless, Patrick Patterson, Ivica Zubac

Rockets: Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Ben McLemore, PJ Tucker, Clint Capela

Injuries

Rockets: Eric Gordon (knee) Out, Nene (hip) Out, Gerald Green (foot) Out, Danuel House (back) Questionable

Clippers: Paul George (shoulder) Questionable, Landry Shamet (ankle) Out

The Big Picture

The Clippers are playing a fairly ugly brand of basketball right now but continue to win because their defense is nasty. Outside of letting teams shoot some wide-open three’s from time to time, this team has absolutely been LOCKING down and really focusing when it counts, in the fourth quarter. Currently, the Clippers rank 7th in opponent FG%, 6th in opponent rebound totals, and 11th in defensive rating. The only reason those aren’t higher is because they allowed 119.5 points on average to the Jazz and Bucks during Kawhi’s load management games.

It’s been delightful seeing Kawhi, Beverley, and Zubac in the starting lineup making life hard for opposing teams, and that trend continues when guys like Maurice Harkless, Rodney McGruder, and (kind of to a lesser extent, but he still works his ass off) Montrezl Harrell come onto the floor with the 2nd unit. The scouting report from game one is that the Clips will be able to clamp pretty much everyone, and so far that’s come true.

The one flaw with LA? Their three-point shooting right now is a travesty. They rank 24th in three-point percentage and 24th in attempts. They only have one player averaging more than 10 mins a game shooting above 40% through ten games (JaMychal Green) and even he has been way off the past few games. With Shamet now hurt for potentially two months, the Clips are in desperate need of confident outside shooters. Guys like Kawhi, Green, Lou, and Patterson will shoot it when they get it, but hitting them has been a different story thus far. The good thing? This is super nit-picky as far as problems go. Yes, it’s a new league where everyone is shooting 40+ threes a game, but the Clips are still 8th in offensive rating and are still finding chemistry playing together. As it happened last season, shots will start to fall more, and once PG is back, averages should go up. However, to keep up against the Rockets tonight, the Clips will need to shoot better. Period.

The Antagonist

The Houston Rockets can give basketball purists nightmares. They rely heavily on isolation offense with their two guards — James Harden and Russell Westbrook — dribbling out clock only to fire a 30 footer or driving directly into the defense for contested lay-in’s or dump offs to corner shooters. They play little to no defense, shoot threes like a desperate man shoots out Instagram DM’s, and try to win games by outscoring their competition. So far this season (and really for the past five or so seasons), it’s worked…in the regular season.

The Rockets come into tonight with a record of 7-3 playing teams mostly under .500 (wins over the Pelicans X2, Warriors, Grizzlies, Bulls, Wizards & Thunder) and have lost to the only good teams they’ve played (Heat by 30, Bucks by 6) as well as taking an L to the lowly Nets. While it’s a good sign they are beating up on teams they are supposed to, tonight’s game against the Clips will be their first real test. The woes with the Rockets will never start with the offense. We always know Houston will score the hell out of the ball. Currently, their offense ranks first in the league in pace and points per game as well as being third in offensive rating.

That’s all fine and dandy until you realize their defense has more holes in it than the plot of Armageddon. They currently rank 26th in opponents points per game and 20th in defensive rating. They infamously gave up 158 points to the Wizards earlier this year and have kept a team under 100 points only once this season, the awful Bulls. While the Clippers offense has not been a well-oiled machine in the slightest, they should be able to take advantage of the Rockets inefficiencies on that end. Hopefully LA can get some shots to fall, unlike Monday night.

Also, the Rockets are quite injured right now with Eric Gordon reportedly out for a month, Gerald Green out all Winter, and starter Danuel House nursing a back injury that could keep him out Wednesday. We’ll see if LA can take advantage.

Notes

James Harden can’t buy a three: While Harden just set a record for highest points per game average in the first 10 games of the season (37.3), he is shooting the worst three-point percentage of his career. He’s averaging 14.1 attempts per game but only connecting on 4.2 of them, for a percentage of 29.8. All of this is for naught though, because every time I write about how bad someone has been playing on the opposing team (Mike Conley, who had 29 against LA, and Brook Lopez, who had 11 points, 12 rebounds and SIX blocks) they go off, so watch Harden go for 55 tonight.

Timing of Landry’s injury: While it absolutely stinks that Landry injured his ankle in Monday’s win over the Raptors, the timing of it isn’t horrendous, as reports indicate that the Clippers will be obtaining the services of Paul George this week. This gives the Clippers another all-world shooter, defender, and playmaker in the starting lineup. This will also probably move Kawhi to the two spot when playing with PG for the foreseeable future. Get better soon Landry; the Clippers are going to need you for the rest of the year.

Lou quietly eating: With all the offseason hoopla surrounding free-agency and now in the regular season with the “load management” controversy, the stature of Lou Williams has been a bit quieter than it was in the last two seasons. That’s fine with him, as he continues to post career numbers at 33 years old. Swear dude will be putting up 15+ until he’s 40.

Beverley and Russ hate each other: