The Rockets lost a game they badly needed to win for playoff seeding in Los Angeles, dropping one to a surging Clippers team that capitalized on Houston’s many mistakes. With third place in the west on the line, the Rockets were unable to hold on as the Clippers eventually ground them down. The Rockets chipped in by throwing 20 turnovers to the Clippers, a gift Los Angeles accepted with great gusto. Little went right for the road team this night, little was expected to. The Rockets were finishing up a road trip tour of every team in the Pacific Division.
The question Rockets and Clippers fans will be asking the most is how much better the Clippers are than the Rockets. Given Houston’s recent hot streak, it seemed impossible for any team to stand up to them on even footing. One problem however, was that the footing was anything but even. The Rockets were on the fifth of five games away from home and found themselves on the wrong end of a back-to-back. Given their recent wins, one might thing the Clippers are the best team in the Western Conference. And you might be right about that.
The good news is that the bench was superb and Jordan Hamilton continues to look immediately useful. He hit 50% of his buckets, scored 16 points and pulled out 2 blocks. As ever, general manager Daryl Morey seems to have a knack for identifying underused talent, and so far the trade seems like a winner. Hamilton can shoot the three well enough, he brings some defense and rebounding, and he can cut to the basket when needed. His size and speed alone are great pickups for Houston at the low cost of a point guard glued to the bench.
Dwight Howard also had some good news, scoring 23 points on 9-12 shooting and pulling down 11 boards. He got off to a slow start but eventually was the best player on his team. He was critical, and so was his absence at times due to foul trouble could have been disastrous. Instead, Ömer Aşık stepped up and led the second unit to a roaring comeback after a dismal 17-4 start. Aşık only shot 3-4 and had a mere 5 rebounds, but his shot-altering presence was his biggest gift. Players thought twice about driving the lane, and that allowed the bench to fight back.
Unfortunately, the starters didn’t fare so well. The bad news is that at 6-16 for the night (18 points), James Harden was the next best player. It was a rough night for every player, but Harden managed to at least tack on a few points. The other team, however, featured an explosive Blake Griffin who not only shot 11-25 but also looked like a post aficionado and a fast break master. Chris Paul’s absence has tempered Griffin and now he’s a deadly weapon.
Losing to a rival and dropping two places in the standings is a painful proposition for this Rockets team, but the season is far from over. With games against The Miami Heat and the Portland Trail Blazers approaching, The Rockets will have chances to get back on track. And unlike the beginning of the year, the track is just a few steps away. The playoffs are comings up and the Rockets are rounding into shape bit by bit. The only use this loss has is to serve as fuel for future wins.