Where: Toyota Center, Houston, TX
When: 5:00 PM PT
How to Watch/Listen: TNT, Prime Ticket, AM 570
Projected Starting Lineups
Rockets: James Harden – Russell Westbrook – Danuel House – Robert Covington – P.J. Tucker
Clippers: Patrick Beverley – Paul George – Kawhi Leonard – Marcus Morris – Ivica Zubac
Rockets: DeMarre Carroll (Questionable) Illness
The Big Picture
The Clippers continue to look their most impressive stretch of the season, riding a current five-game win streak into Houston Thursday night. With a win tonight, if Montrezl Harrell is healthy (rolled his ankle Tuesday), the Clippers would be 10-0 with a fully healthy lineup. Their next two games, Houston tonight, and the Lakers Sunday, will be their two most important of the regular season to this point. Tonight could be a statement win. The Rockets are only 2.5 games back of the Clippers for the two seed. However, this season, the Rockets have beaten LA two out of three times, including the Clippers squandering an 18-point lead in the last matchup.
There is also a weird little rivalry with the Rockets given previous playoff matchups and the players that are on both rosters. It’s been noted that Pat Bev and Russ hate each other, and that Austin Rivers is both a former Clipper and son of the Clippers coach Doc. These games are always scrappy and drama filled. The Clippers have been able to stifle top teams this season, but have yet to see a team like the Rockets all season. You know, the team with a 6’5” center. Do the Clips take advantage of having Zubac and go inside more? Do they match the Rockets in their small-ball efforts and utilize Trezz to extremes? It’s going to be a fun watch regardless.
The most frustrating team in the league to watch and to play against. The Houston Rockets have gone all-in on Mike D’Antoni’s wet dream of small-ball by taking out their biggest player and going five-out, chucking threes, playing minimal defense, and “revolutionizing” the way the game is played. So far, it’s worked? Since trading Capela on Feb 5, the Rockets are 7-3. Their lowest point total in a game since has been 111 (in a win over the Boston Celtics), and this small-ball play style has unlocked different looks in their offense. Russell Westbrook has gone from undeserved All-Star to playing perhaps the best ball of his career, averaging 32.5, 8 and 8 in the month of February and, you know, actually contributing to wins instead of chucking unnecessary threes and hurting his team.
This game has all the makings of being very frustrating to watch. If the Rockets are hitting their deep balls and the lane is open for them, they are very difficult to beat. The Clippers defense has been able to stifle top opponents this season and make life hard for offenses, but the Rockets can shoot their way into (and out of) every game, as well as use their unique, rush-to-the-ball defense to confuse offenses. It will be we interesting to see how they protect the rim against someone like Zubac or Trezz. Likewise it’ll be fascinating to see how the Clippers defend the Rockets.
Reggie and Lou combo KILLIN IT: Reggie Jackson’s ability to take the ball out of Lou’s hands in the 2nd unit and let him play his natural position, shooting guard, has done wonders for the Clips bench. Via Jovan Buha with The Athletic, in the 69 minutes they’ve played together, Jackson and Williams have posted a plus-34.2 net rating. It’s a small-ish sample size, but the way this pairing has been going so far, I don’t see the momentum stopping anytime soon. Especially when you factor in that the Reg-Trezz PnR is now dangerous as well.
I do this every time they play but watch this video on the beef between Russ and Pat Bev: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A4htEvURGco