Feb 26, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) attempts a shot defended by Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard (12) during the third quarter at Staples Center. The Los Angeles Clippers defeated the Houston Rockets 101-93. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
Given that the Houston Rockets lost three of four games last season to the L.A. Clippers, it’s hard to give the Rox any big nod here over a tough club coached by one of the best in the NBA.
Doc Rivers. Rivers was able to revolutionize the defensive culture in L.A., as the Clippers allowed 101 points per game while winning by an average of 6.9 points per game.
2013-14 season series:
Clippers win, 137-118 (road)
Clippers win, 107-94 (home)
Clippers win, 101-93 (road)
Clippers win, 118-107 (home)
Net: (+54) Clippers, average victory: 13.5 points
Rockets lose 4-2 to Portland Trail Blazers in 1st round
Clippers win 4-3 over Golden State, lose 2-4 in Semifinals to Oklahoma City Thunder
The Clippers ranked 9th in defensive rating (104.8). While the higher scoring of the opposition of the Clippers ranks merely average, with pace factored in, the Clippers are in the top-third of the NBA. Given the overwhelmingly potent offense, this makes the Clips a tough matchup for the vast majority of NBA teams.
Mar 29, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul (3) drives the ball during the fourth quarter against the Houston Rockets at Toyota Center. The Clippers defeated the Rockets 118-107. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
The Houston Rockets have a bit of a disadvantage because the second leading scorer on Houston is Dwight Howard, and the Clippers counter with a very strong defensive player in DeAndre Jordan. Jordan is nowhere near the offensive threat Howard is, but he’s strong enough around the basket that he cannot be left alone.
Howard can’t simply rotate to the weak side to cover the blunders of perimeter defenders, because Jordan (or Blake Griffin) will almost certainly get a dish from one of the best point guards in recent history, Chris Paul.
Paul is not the prototypical point that gives Patrick Beverley trouble (usually stronger and taller ones are most problematic), but he destroyed Bev last season and even further obliterated Jeremy Lin in Lin’s two starts.
In the first regular season matchup, he had 23 points and 17 assists, as the Clippers rolled to the most lopsided victory of their three. Beverley did not play in the contest; but he had his way with Jeremy Lin, in both contests the former Rocket started in.
Paul followed that up at Houston five nights later, by scoring 14 and dishing out 13 dimes; though he did shoot just 5-of-13 from the floor, though, once again the Rockets fell short.
Clearly, Bev’s influence was needed to put the clamps on CP3. And Beverley scored 19 of his own, but had as many assists and turnovers (four). It was still far better than Jeremy Lin’s efforts.
Nov 9, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets point guard Patrick Beverley (2) plays defense during the first quarter against the Los Angeles Clippers at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
The third game, which the Clippers still managed to win, saw Paul shoot 5-of-13 again for 14 points and nine assists. However, CP3 also only had one turnover in the game. Beverley fouled out in 29 minutes of play while scoring just five points without a single assist.
Game four was a disaster for Houston, as Paul caught fire hitting 10-of-16 from the floor and 5-of-9 from three-point range to finish with 30 points and 12 assists. Again, the Clips won by double digits. Beverley also sat this one out, and Lin was clamped down by Paul, much as Beverley was.
Lin hit just 1-of-9 from the floor with two assists. He scored 10, due to hitting 8-of-8 from the line. But Chris Paul’s monster game only further illustrated why Jeremy Lin was fully expendable this offseason.
These factors considered, the Rockets have numerous problems in the backcourt. Howard negates part of this. He averaged 19 points per game in the three of four contests he appeared in. The Rockets sorely missed him in that game, losing by 11. Howard also hit 60 percent of his field goals against Jordan. The Clippers were able to keep Howard from a monster night on the boards, as he averaged 9.5 rebounds per game, nearly three rebounds less than his season average.
November 4, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers shooting guard J.J. Redick (4) moves the ball against the defense of Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden (13) during the second half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
James Harden theoretically should have a huge advantage at 2-guard over J.J. Redick, but Redick is a better defender than given credit for. Harden averaged just 15 points per game over the first three contests. Harden blew up for 32 in the last matchup, but Redick sat the last two games of the matchup, due to missing nearly two months of the season.
Jamal Crawford struggled in his place, hitting just 2-of-10 from the floor in the third matchup.
Darren Collison had better luck, putting together a stat-stufing performance that featured 11 points, five assists, five rebounds, four steals and a block.
Redick, Crawford and Paul make about as strong a three-guard rotation as any in the NBA, though Darren Collison is no longer with the team (departed for Sacto).
The Clips are hoping that one of the many young players and vet Jordan Farmar to to replace him. Farmar will likely absorb the role of primarily backup role; and if Hedo Turkoglu is any kind of game shape, he’ll also share a lot of the ball handling duties in the second unit.
Beyond the issues with containing Paul, there is the matter of Blake Griffin. Griffin is clearly one of the top 4-men in the Association and the Rockets have little more than a promising young guy (Terrence Jones) and an undersized backup (Jeff Adrien). There really aren’t any other Rockets capable of covering Griffin, all the more so since Kevin McHale doesn’t have the option of using Omer Asik and letting Howard swing to power forward (foul trouble would be a concern anyway).
Joey Dorsey and Donatas Motiejunas certainly won’t be up to the task, and Jones has shown a lot of defensive inconsistencies. He has a lot of athleticism which would help in covering Griffin, but Jones too easily buys fakes, commits silly fouls and just showed his still inept defensive abilities when LaMarcus Aldridge went bonkers on him in the 2014 playoffs.
Aug 18, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers at press conference at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
All things considered, it would be hard to pick the Rockets in a seven-game series. The Clippers gave the Rox all they could handle last year, and CP3 is the best point in the league at setting the table in “Lob City.” The Clips also have a great coach in Doc, and much has been said regarding Kevin McHale and the hot seat under him on the bench. McHale has to get this team to take the next step, and that may be hard to do with so few roster improvements.
The Clippers are in the realm of true Western Conference contenders, even if San Antonio and Oklahoma City are the two bar none favorites. The Clips have the potential to beat any team, and they even managed to overcome the trauma regarding the Donald Sterling issues, showing solidarity and protest by winning the series rather than capitulating.
The Rockets and Clippers are both clubs on the rise, but it’s the Clippers that have the best collection of talent and depth, and it’s really not actually all that close when considered on a purely objective basis.