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Houston Rockets vs Los Angeles Clippers game preview - November 14

N.B. Lindberg
Los Angeles Clippers v Houston Rockets
Los Angeles Clippers v Houston Rockets / Carmen Mandato/GettyImages
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Houston Rockets vs Los Angeles Clippers: Stats to know

The Los Angeles Clippers have had the league’s worst offense. Their 105.2 offensive rating is dead last, and almost a full point separates them and the Lakers at 29th. For a city known for its entertainment industry, the basketball product in the city of Angels has been as entertaining as watching paint dry. 

The key to the Clippers’ eternally stifled offense is an incredibly static offense. They attempt the second-fewest passes per game in the NBA and move less than any team on offense. Elite offenses can be built using this strategy, but they require an all-encompassing offensive engine, something the Clippers lack, or elite shot making. 

The Clippers’ offense appears to be designed for a different roster, unsurprising considering Kawhi Leonard has hardly played this season. They run the third most isolations per game (10.4%) but rank 20th in points per possession at 0.88. They similarly combine a high volume with low efficiency on pick-and-roll ball handler positions, sitting in eighth in frequency (18.4%) but 20th in points per possession (0.83). 

An area where the Clippers excel, surprisingly, is in transition. They’re eighth in frequency (18.4%) and sixth in points per possession (1.18). They’ve also been quite effective in post ups, generating 1.05 points per possession, the second-best mark in the league, with the 11th-highest frequency (5.3%).

The only thing keeping the Clippers’ offense from being historically all-time awful is they’re 15th in effective field goal percentage at 53.6%. However, they’re 26th in turnover rate (14.7%), dead last in offensive rebounding rate (17.5%), and 23rd in free throws to field goal attempt rate. 

They generate precious few chances around the rim and are very reliant on above average shooting in the floater and mid-range. The one area where they’ve been unexpectedly poor is 3-point shooting. They’re 23rd in 3-point shooting efficiency, a season after finishing third. With largely the same roster, it’s unlikely they’ll continue to be so inaccurate beyond the arc.  

While the Clippers’ offense is a mess, they have the league’s third-best defensive rating at 108.5 points per 100 possessions. They’re fourth in opponent eFG% (51.8%), ninth in defensive rebound rate (77.2%), and first in FT/FGA at .162. However, they don’t force many turnovers, ranking 23rd in turnover rate at 12.4%. 

The secret sauce for the Clippers’ defense is simple, prevent shots around the rim and defend the 3-point line. Thus far, they allowed the fourth fewest shots zero to three feet from the rim, and they have the ninth-best opponent 3-point field goal percentage. By forcing teams to work in the mid-range, they’re able to limit their opponents’ field goal percentage, free throw attempts, and offensive rebound opportunities. 

What does this all mean for the Rockets? It means the Clippers should be on upset alert. The Rockets have the best offensive rebound rate in the league but the 25th-ranked defensive rebound rate. The Clippers aren’t equipped to take advantage of the Rockets’ deficiency, which gives the Rockets an easy route to the possession edge through rebounding. 

The key to the game for the Rockets will be how well they limit the Clippers’ transition opportunities via turnovers and crashing the glass. The Rockets own the league’s highest turnover rate, and many are self-inflicted. If they can avoid unforced turnovers, the Clippers won’t force enough to make up for the Rockets’ possession edge on the boards. 

The Clippers being an excellent transition team without forcing turnovers tells you a lot about how dangerous they can be off of a miss. The Rockets will need to balance aggression on the offensive glass with security on the backend because the Clippers can make you pay for a four-on-three transition opportunity. 

The Clippers should still be favored, but there’s a route for the Rockets to secure victory. Kill on the glass, prevent transition opportunities, and make the Clippers force turnovers. It sounds simple, but nothing in the NBA is easy. 

Next: Players to watch

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