Houston Rockets vs Los Angeles Clippers: Players to watch
The players to watch for the Houston Rockets are Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr. Green has been on something of a run his past five games. Over that stretch, he’s averaging 26.2 points per game, 4.0 assists, 5.0 free throw attempts, and shooting 54.1% from the field and 41.3% on threes. That’s All-Star-level scoring, but most importantly, it’s some of the best passing of his career.
For the Rockets to punch above their weight, they need Green to be a “bucket” and also participate in creation for others. The skill level in the NBA is so high that simply being an elite scorer doesn’t make you an elite offensive option.
In the Rockets’ first showdown with the Clippers, a two point loss, Green struggled, scoring 13 points on 17 field goal attempts. In their next matchup, Green got right, scoring 22 points on 17 field goal attempts. However, he only dished two total assists between the games. A 20-point night with around five assists could be enough to break the Clippers’ defense.
Kevin Porter Jr. is always a wildcard. His scoring, passing, and defense fluctuate wildly from game to game and possession to possession. His lack of consistency has almost become part of his appeal, but it usually hurts the Rockets.
Over the Rockets’ first nine games, Porter was tasked with running the offense and focused largely on scoring. The results weren’t all that rosy outside of surface-level stat accumulation. While 20.4 points and 5.4 assists per game look good, when they come with a usage rate of 27.2% and an offensive rating of 106, it’s not helping you win games in the NBA.
Over the past four games, Porter has seen his usage on offense decrease, but he hasn’t seen an uptick in efficiency. In fact, his offensive rating has dropped to 100. He has seen his assists per game and assist percentage improve, but it has come with a corresponding increase in turnovers.
A great game from Porter will be a low-turnover affair with his usual excellent 3-point shooting. He’s shown he’s plenty capable of doing both, but putting it together over an extended run has been elusive.
The Rockets simply need Porter to step it up in a lower usage role. He’s not good enough to be the focal point of an NBA offense, but if he gets worse without the ball in his hands, he’ll be destined for a sixth-man role.
The players to watch for the Los Angeles Clippers are Paul George and Ivica Zubac. It might be reductive, but the Clippers go as Paul George goes. They’re 6-1 when he scores 20 or more points and 1-5 when he doesn’t.
George is the Clippers' best active player, and due to their static offense, they desperately need his shot making abilities to stay afloat. His full season line of 24.7 points per game is a bit misleading. Over his first five games, he averaged only 19 points per game, and that was with a 40-point game. In his ensuing seven games, he is averaging 28.7 points per game and has been held under 26 points just once.
The Clippers mortgaged their future for George, and he’s largely held up his end of the bargain. His late-game heroics helped secure the Clippers a two-point victory over the Rockets, and the Clippers are +30 with him on the court against the Rockets. He’s an All-NBA quality player when healthy, and currently, he’s healthy.
Ivica Zubac will be the Clippers' sacrificial lamb at the altar of the offensive rebounding gods, aka the Houston Rockets. Zubac is the Clippers' only true center, far and away their best defensive and offensive rebounder, a nasty screen setter, and is effective around the rim.
Zubac has struggled on offense this season but is the lynchpin of the Clippers’ defense. As much as they want to play small, in a game against the Rockets, his size will be crucial. The key for Zubac will be containing Alperen Sengun without falling into foul trouble. He earned five fouls in both games against the Rockets, but in the first game, he still was able to play over 31 minutes, scoring 16 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. In game two, he only played 24 minutes and settled with 5 points and 6 rebounds.
Zubac doesn’t grab headlines, but he has been an above average starting center for the Clippers for years now. He’s key to their defense and will be crucial to containing the Rockets’ lone elite skill, crashing the offensive glass.