By: Mitchell Felker
Teams: Los Angeles Clippers @ Houston Rockets
Time: 7:00 p.m. CT
Venue: Toyota Center, Houston, TX
Notes: Since Dwight Howard joined the Houston Rockets, the Rockets have not beaten the LA Clippers in six tries. The primary reason? James Harden. Harden just can't figure out how to score against the Clips. He's only averaged 17 PPG, shot just over 30% from the field and only about 10% of his 3's. In several of those games, JJ Redick has really caused problems for Harden on both ends of the floor. But Harden also struggled when Redick was out, so I'll be curious to see if it's the match-ups that have slowed Harden or if it's something scheme-wise that Doc Rivers is cooking up.
Howard has missed both games against the Clippers this season. In his absence, DeAndre Jordan has given the Rockets fits. He's averaged a +/- of +17.5, with 15.5 PPG and 70% FG, 16.5 rebs (5 offensive), and 14.5 FTA. Especially in the last game, in which Blake Griffin didn't play, Jordan's length and athleticism wreaked havoc on the boards, as he kept multiple possessions going on offense. And on defense he was downright Russell-ian, with 3 steals and 2 blocks, while keeping Harden and the Rockets out of the paint more than usual.
Injuries: Patrick Beverley is still listed as day-to-day and will be evaluated at shoot around. Kostas Papanikolaou will miss the game with a sprained ankle.
Blake Griffin still has about a week left of rehab after surgery on his elbow and will miss the game, while Austin Rivers should be suited up for the Clips.
MF - Grantland’s Kirk Goldsberry has an interesting new piece on defensive assignment tracking and how players affect shot attempts and shooting percentages from the 13-14 season. Chris Paul is kind of the star of the article (we won’t discuss James Harden), but there seems to be a bit of an overall backlash against Paul this season, mostly since the referee comments. Has there been any kind of slippage in his game, or are people just finally tired of his Napoleon act and he’s really still great?
LM - Paul is in his tenth NBA season, and he turns 30 in May. For the first time in his career, he didn't enter this season as the clear-cut best, most valuable player on his own team. The silly and tired "best point guard" discussion is more crowded than ever. And the images of Paul's shortcomings have become more glaring, whether it's the lack of team success (three postseason series wins) or his own untimely miscues (Monday night's turnover parallels Paul's Game 5 turnover against the Thunder). The reality is, Paul has been as good this season as he usually is. He's been even more valuable due to his durability, appearing in all 57 games so far. He's not getting to the line as much (career-low free throw attempts per game) and he's not leading the league in anything for the first time in awhile. But Chris Paul hasn't changed; basketball consumers' conversations have changed.
DeAndre Jordan has really shouldered the load since Blake Griffin’s injury, but hes also an upcoming free agent. If the Clippers don’t get over the hump this year, do you think its a given he comes back next season (on a presumed max deal), or might he be the “shake up” every team makes when they can't take the next leap?
With the lack of flexibility given Los Angeles' situation, and with Jordan showing increased value with his production sans Griffin, it's not a given that Jordan will be back with the Clippers. In fact, I think he probably walks. Some team is going to blow Jordan away with a major offer, and he turns 27 in July. That's not an age where you "take one for the team". The Clippers aren't getting to the Conference Finals, and it will be interesting to see how the team would handle Jordan's next deal in that case.
With all the players bouncing around at the deadline, do you think Austin Rivers was the right move for this team, or did Doc Rivers the GM handicap Doc Rivers the coach?
The Austin Rivers experience has netted a career-night (28 points in a blowout win vs. Sacramento Saturday night) and a big letdown (a donut in a three-point loss the very next game vs. Memphis Monday night). Rivers is in the best situation of his fleeting career. His three years have been humbling, to say the least, and without a guaranteed contract for next season, he's trying to show he belongs while being the nominal eighth guy in the rotation. Rivers has been marginally better than the guy he replaced in that spot to start the season, Jordan Farmar. But no, Doc Rivers as the primary personnel executive has not helped Rivers put a better team on the floor. There is just too much flotsam on the roster.
The West is crazy this year and I believe it really will come down to matchups in the playoffs. What is the key to the Clippers offense when the starters are sitting, and how confident are you in the Clips bench to make it through 3 rounds of the Western Conference?
When starters sit, the key to the offense for the Clippers has been Jamal Crawford, the two-time Sixth Man of the Year. Crawford's something close to a physical marvel. He turns 35 in March, yet he's pulling in a career-high usage rate off the bench. Crawford has never been known for his efficiency, and he's not shooting the three or getting to the line as well as he did a season ago. But he's leading the league in points per game off the bench while protecting the ball with a career-low turnover rate. And yes, the over-reliance on Crawford's bench production is another reason why the Clippers aren't touching the Finals in 2015.