The Clippers will be looking for revenge in this one, as the Rockets knocked them off by nine points last week. L.A. led in that game by a point late, but James Harden scored 15 points in the final five minutes to get the win for Houston. Harden finished with 47 in the game.
The game was given an odd dimension when Austin Rivers, Rockets reserve guard, was seen encouraging the ejection of Clippers coach Doc Rivers, who happens to be Austin’s father.
Adding another layer to the intrigue here is the long-simmering feud between Clippers guard Patrick Beverley and new Rocket Russell Westbrook, going back to the 2013 playoffs, when a collision of the two players caused Westbrook to tear the meniscus in his right knee, and injury that required multiple surgeries. Westbrook added to that personal beef after the game in Houston, when he told reporters, “Pat Bev trick y’all, man, like he playing defense,” Westbrook told reporters. “He don’t guard nobody, man. It’s just running around, doing nothing. … All that commotion to get 47.”
The Clippers will come into this one with a new addition: forward Paul George, who returned to the lineup for the Clippers’ next game after the Houston loss. George has averaged 28.3 points, averaging 53.0 percent shooting and 47.1 percent from the 3-point line in four games this season.
Rockets vs. Clippers Preview
The Nuggets frustrated Harden on Wednesday when they smothered him with double-teams, forced the ball out of his hands, limited him (we use that word loosely) to 27 points and held the Rockets to a season-low 95 points in giving Houston a loss. Harden didn’t have much help, as his teammates shot just 40.0 percent from the field and 26.7 percent from the 3-point line.
The Clippers don’t double-team much, even against Harden. They’ll again lean on a combination of individual defenders, including Beverley and George, a plan that worked well until the final minutes of the game in Houston. Harden won’t be much bothered by being in Los Angeles, as he shoots better from the field on the road than at home (44.4 percent vs. 40.8 percent). Still, expect a better showing from the Clippers D against Harden—Houston runs more offense, by far, through isolation plays than any other team in the league and the Clippers are No. 5 in the league at defending those plays, allowing 0.76 points per possession.
But the Clippers have more to figure out than just the Rockets’ offense. There’s also their own offense, which was disjointed at times in Wednesday’s overtime win over the Celtics as Kawhi Leonard played alongside George for the first time. Leonard was just 7-for-20 shooting for 17 points. George was better, at 8-for-18 with 25 points, but that was the worst shooting night of the four games in which he has appeared. The Clippers are 10-5, fourth-best in the NBA, but they’ve been underwhelming this season for bettors, 8-7 ATS. In their last five games, they’re just 1-4 ATS.
Still, there’s plenty of motivation in this game on both sides. If there was a time for the Clippers to play up to their talent, it’s now and the expectation is that they will. Both defenses are good, but the Rockets are likely to bounce back from their clunker on Wednesday and the Clippers will be smoother with a Leonard-George game under their bests. Expect and entertaining game, with the Clippers holding off the Rockets enough to cover the 5.5-point line.
Rockets vs. Clippers Pick & Prediction
PICK: Clippers, minus-5.5
OVER: 226.5 points
SCORE PREDICTION: Clippers 119, Rockets 110