Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
When: 7:30 PM Pacific Time
How to Watch/Listen: ESPN, AM 570
Projected Starting Lineups
Rockets: Russell Westbrook – James Harden – Danuel House – P.J. Tucker – Clint Capela
Clippers: Patrick Beverley – Kawhi Leonard – Paul George – Moe Harkless – Ivica Zubac
Rockets: Danuel House Jr Doubtful (Shoulder), Eric Gordon Out (Knee), Gerald Green Out (Foot), Nene Out (Groin)
Clippers: Landry Shamet Out (Ankle)
The Big Picture
The Clippers have their first real winning streak of the 2020 NBA season, and with their three game run have pushed to a 10-5 record and 4th place in the Western Conference. The Clippers’ defense continues to tighten, as they’ve now improved to 9th in the NBA on that end of the court, and have all the makings of a top five defense. The Clippers are long, they give a lot of effort, and have some of the strongest perimeter defenders in the NBA. With young big man Ivica Zubac seemingly improving every game, the Clippers should be a tough defense night in and night out. Unfortunately, their offense isn’t quite on that level, as chemistry and executing is still a bit off. The Clippers go through extremely rough dry patches offensively that not even their superstars can salve – yet they still win games due to shotmaking. As Kawhi, Paul George, Lou Williams, and the rest continue to get more minutes together, the offense should come. Right now, though, it’s still in the development stage.
Somehow, despite the addition of Russell Westbrook, the Rockets are more of a one man show than ever. Like him or not, James Harden is doing things that no NBA player has ever done before and doing them in a fashion that wins the Rockets a lot of games. He’s averaging over 38 points per game at a ridiculous 62% True Shooting, a number that boggles the mind. How does he attain such efficiency? Well, he takes nearly 14 threes per game… while also getting to the free throw line over 14 times per game! He’s the most singularly unstoppable force in the NBA right now, and while other Rockets are very important (Clint Capela as rim-runner and protector, PJ Tucker as defender and floor spacer, Russ as secondary ball-handler and scorer), the Rockets go as Harden does. There’s just nothing quite like the Rockets, for good and for bad.
Pat Beverley’s Shooting: Pat has started out the season, much like last year, as frigid as an ice box on the offensive end. He seemingly hasn’t been able to make anything, and that’s damaged his confidence on offense. However, Wednesday’s game against the Celtics could be a turning point, as Pat nailed four long balls in the 4th quarter, and was shooting with little hesitation. That latter point is key – Beverley will get a lot of open shots with Paul George and Kawhi Leonard playing, and the Clippers need him to fire away. Passing up open shots almost never leads to better looks (somewhat contrary to counter opinion on “getting a better shot”) and can often just lead to overpassing into late shot clock situations. Pat can’t have any hesitation on open threes this year, and the more he shoots, the more comfortable he will get in his slightly adjusted role.
Injured Rockets: While the Clips are getting healthier, the Rockets are in fairly bad shape right now. Their four best and most important player – Harden, Russ, Tucker, and Capela – are healthy, but most of the rest of their rotation is injured, with starting wing Danuel House recently announced doubtful for tonight. With Gerald Green and Eric Gordon also out, that leaves the Rockets very thin at wing, relying heavily on… Ben McLemore? Austin Rivers at the 3? Austin is good, but he’s no match for Kawhi or Paul George on defense, and McLemore just isn’t all that good, period. Harden is deadly, but this version of the Rockets against the Clippers with both George and Leonard is at a real talent disadvantage.
Paul George Off Minutes Restriction: After being kept under 25 minutes in his first two games back, and then under 30 in his third, Paul George was unleashed for 37 minutes in Wednesday’s overtime win against the Celtics. While the Clippers will probably be careful with his minutes going forward, his receiving a full workload like that is a good sign that his hard minutes restriction is behind him. This makes sense – unlike Kawhi, PG does not have a degenerative or lingering injury of any kind. The Clippers won’t want to work him too hard, of course, but there’s no reason he can’t play most of the rest of the season and play big minutes to boot. George looks fantastic, but his availability compared to Leonard will be equally as important.
Check back in for the game thread before the game, and stay tuned for any injury updates!