Houston Rockets Game Day: Rockets vs. Clippers
Clutch City fans will never forget the evening of May 14th when facing elimination the Houston Rockets went on a 49-18 run in their comeback win at the Staples Center to extend their playoff season. Fair to say the Clippers haven’t forgotten either, even adding 2 players from that team to this season’s roster and arguably the man who led that comeback – Josh Smith.
Coming off a loss last night (Friday December 18th) the Clippers arrive at the site of where their post season ended this past summer and with the memory of the May 14th comeback at Staples that forced the game 7 in Houston still firmly entrenched in their memory.
It’s not the first time these two teams meet and in fact there will be a lot of differences from this meeting to their first on November 7th:
- Chris Paul will suit up and play tonight
- Donatas Motiejunas is back and healthy
- Kevin McHale is no longer behind the Rockets bench
This season neither team has lived up to expectations with the Rockets reeling and seemingly providing constant fodder for the media and bloggers alike.
The Clippers apparently welcomed the December 15th trade date (when players added in the summer can be traded from their new teams) to gauge interest in their new roster members Lance Stephenson and Josh Smith. The latter news is a bit shocking given Doc Rivers added those players with the goal of adding depth to the Clippers roster which it seemingly did. What he didn’t count on was how much of an affect losing Matt Barnes would have on the team or how the new personalities would mesh.
The best line I’ve heard in that regard comes from former player and now Toronto Raptor analyst Leo Rautins, who said: “you can have one donkey (i.e. jack ass) on a team but you know what happens when you add two?…. they make more donkeys!”
With that, let’s compare the teams and tonight’s match-up:
Venue: Toyota Center, Houston
Game Time: 8:00 PM EST – 7:00 PM CT
TV: ROOT and Prime Ticket
Radio: 790 AM and The Beast 980/KWKW 1
The teams split last season regular season games and dramatically came back in the playoffs from 1-3 down to win the series.
- Nov 7 HOU 109 – 105 LAC – Harden scored 46 points and Howard offered the rare 20-20 double-double
- Mar 15 HOU 100-98 LAC
- Feb 25 LAC 105-110 HOU
- Feb 11 HOU 95-110 LAC
- No injuries reported
- Ty Lawson is out to serve a 2 game suspension for his D.U.I.
- Sam Dekker had bad surgery is out 3 months
DeAndre Jordan vs. Dwight Howard
Last time out Howard posted a rare 20 point and 20 rebound double – double versus the Clippers, so look for Jordan to want some revenge on this night. Problem is Howard might be so annoyed by all the comments in the media he could be looking to make a statement tonight.
Again, it’s no secret I’m not a fan of this team or their summer antics that led to Jordan leaving, returning and re-signing. Jordan’s whole purpose for agreeing to sign with Dallas was he wasn’t happy with how teammates treated him (specifically Paul) and also wanted to be a bigger focus of the offense. Cut to present day and CP3 has already been seen yelling at Jordan. More laughable is Jordan’s regression on offense where he is scoring less, hitting a lower field goal percentage and believe it or not shooting his worse percentage from the free throw line of his career!
Doesn’t it stand to reason a player truly committed to increasing their role would do everything possible to make that decision easy for the coaching staff? If Jordan were scoring more or grabbing more rebounds or dealing with returning from an injury I’d let this go. But the fact is he wasn’t injured, he isn’t scoring more or grabbing more rebounds so his lack of commitment to improve his shot from the line is unacceptable.
Keys to Winning:
- Take advantage of Clippers on second night of back to back: The Clippers will be looking to do what San Antonio did to them last night by getting even for being taken out of the post season. They failed in their first attempt and enter tired, but they have a key ingredient that was missing last time out… Chris Paul!
- Rebound: Despite boasting a rather large front court and a center dedicated just to defense the Clippers rank 23rd in rebounding. Now before you start jumping up and down the Rockets rank one spot ahead in 22nd place. Suffice to say grabbing the rebounds tonight will be key to controlling pace, tempo, and getting out in transition.
- Pace: Both teams are notorious for pushing the pace with it mattering slightly more to the Rockets. If they can control the boards they’ll look to push the pace as well and get out in transition to create fast break points.
- DON’T Turn Over The Ball: Ranked 29th the Rockets have been abysmal at protecting the rock while the one thing the Clipper have excelled in is doing exactly that (ranked 2nd). Therefore a major key to success will be to force turnovers by the tired Clippers while protecting the rock on their end of the floor.
- Build Winning Habits to Carry Forward:This game earmarks the end of the easy schedule for the Rockets who have played only 2 teams over .500 in their past 12 games. Coming down the pipe in the next 15 games are just 3 teams under .500 (one twice vs. Utah), so there is no time like the present to institute winning habits!
The odds makers have made the Clippers 1.5 point favorites with an over/under of 212 points.
So, let’s put that into perspective…. the odds makers are picking a team who are on the second night of a back to back and played arguably the second best team in the Association (Spurs) and best defense last night, are on the road and playing a rested team. All home teams are given anywhere from a 1.5 to 3 point advantage out of the gate so the odds makers are telling you the not only do they not trust the Rockets to win they also think the Clippers who’ve been anything but stellar themselves this season are that much better.
Prediction: Last time out Chris Paul didn’t play and this time Ty Lawson won’t be playing as he begins to serve his 2 game suspension.
Regardless, much will be evident today in terms of how the Rockets and specific players take to the court. Watch Dwight Howard, James Harden, Corey Brewer and Terrence Jones specifically as they are all players (except Harden) who could be shipped out if the Rockets don’t continue to win. While I could extol on how much the Rockets overall game is improved especially in December it’s hard to spout too loudly given their competition.
Case in point the Rockets played:
- Lakers (twice) – 4-22
- Kings (twice) – 10-16
- Nuggets – 11-15
- Wizards – 10-14
- Nets- 7-19
- Mavericks * 15-12
- Pelicans 7-19
- Pistons * 16-12
- Knicks 13-14
- 76ers 1-27
In these 12 games the Rockets went 8 – 4 but the record of those teams is: 108 – 208 or a 34% winning percentage. Looking ahead at the next 12 games here’s who the Rockets face and their record:
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- Clippers 16-11
- Hornets 15-10
- Magic 15-11
- Spurs 23-5 (twice)
- Pelicans * 7-10
- Hawks 16-12
- Warriors 26-1
- Jazz * 11-14 (twice)
- Pacers 16-9
- Grizzlies 14-14
So the Rockets next 12 have a cumulative record of 193 – 116 or a 62% winning percentage.
Suffice to say regardless of what fodder is on social or national media the Rockets need to start building some winning defensive habits and today is the best place to start showcasing that effort. Given that, I’ll take the Rockets by 3 points (and if they lose I’ll submit to the likelihood one of their core players won’t last through this above 12 game tour before getting traded.
And just because this year has been so disappointing, let’s take this opportunity to remind you of the magical season and specifically “the moment” that occurred courtesy of the Clippers:
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Make sure you catch up on our entire Team Preview Series, our Houston Rockets Player Profile Series as well as our SCS Round Table Sessions to help you get through the early season. Start your morning with SCS Rocket Science Daily and visit us throughout the day to keep abreast of all your Houston Rockets news and updates.