Clippers vs Rockets
|Date||Thursday, March 5|
|Time||8:10 p.m. ET|
|How to watch Clippers vs Rockets||TNT|
|Clippers vs Rockets odds||Clippers -1|
|Clippers vs Rockets odds – total points||236.5 over/under|
In what could be a playoff preview, Kawhi Leonard and the Los Angeles Clippers face James Harden and the Houston Rockets on TNT.
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Clippers coach Doc Rivers is revered in part because of his willingness to provide pointed commentary.
Rivers is an open book willing to discuss realities of his team, the league as a whole, and Clippers’ upcoming opponents.
Following the Clippers’ 109-94 victory in Oklahoma City against the Thunder on Tuesday, Rivers gushed over how exceptionally his team has played of late. Rivers noted progress on both ends of the court.
The Clippers, identified during the preseason as one of a small handful of teams with legitimate championship aspirations, have spent most of this season fighting injury adversity.
Accurately judging the Clippers has been a challenging endeavor. Their injuries have rendered them incomplete for long stretches of the schedule.
But lately, with his roster finally whole, Rivers has caught multiple glimpses of what the Clippers are and, perhaps more importantly, what they can become when the playoffs arrive and specific matchups are critical.
“I don’t know yet; we haven’t been together enough,” Rivers said when asked if the Clippers can thrive against any foe no matter the matchup. “But this team matches up pretty well. The thing you like about this team is it can be a really big team. It can play small ball as well. Our small-ball lineup is lethal, we just haven’t needed it much. It’s nice to be able to have both.”
Considering who the Clippers play next — the Rockets on Thursday at Toyota Center — the remark on small-ball lineups was either coincidental or an outright challenge.
The Rockets have made inroads since jettisoning center Clint Capela to Atlanta, acquiring forward Robert Covington from Minnesota and leaning fully into a small-ball lineup with undersized power forward P.J. Tucker manning the center position. Houston has been the talk of the league since executing the gambit and, save for their listless performance against the New York Knicks on Monday at Madison Square Garden, the Rockets have validated the shift with their stellar play.
Houston had won 10 of 12 before dozing off against the Knicks, with one of those losses coming in the second game of a road back-to-back and without All-Star guard Russell Westbrook and the other coming at the buzzer against the Utah Jazz, whom the Rockets have beaten twice since going small. After many observers initially scoffed at the Rockets’ decision to discard Capela, Houston started forcing many to reconsider their positions with that string of victories.
What Rivers made clear was his belief in the Clippers’ ability to counter what has become the Rockets' strength. The Clippers are 1-2 against the Rockets this season and needed a last-minute rally to secure their lone win in the season series, 122-119 at home in late November. The Rockets were utilizing a traditional lineup then, but Houston has appeared to be the one Western Conference team capable of consistently giving the talented Clippers fits.
Now that they are healthy with Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Patrick Beverley available following injuries both nagging and debilitating, the Clippers look as imposing as many predicted. It’s easy to note their offensive prowess, but Rivers spots value in how the Clippers have meshed on the other end of the court now that their collection of parts is working in sync.
“One of the things we’ve not done which you thought before the year we would do a lot of is we’ve made very few defensive runs,” Rivers said. “Of late, during this stretch (of five consecutive wins), we keep doing it now. Even the other night in a big offensive game we came out in the third quarter and had a run where we got stops in a row. If we get stops we’re scoring; that’s the one thing we talk about every day. And we’re starting to do that now, our guys are starting to see that. They’re talking about making defensive runs now instead of offensive runs.”
The Rockets had talked up their defense during their winning streak, pleased with their ability to force turnovers and the sheer will required to defend bigger opponents in the post while scraping for rebounds despite fielding undersized lineups. They backslid against the Knicks.
The Clippers will provide a different test of sorts. Houston had grown confident in its ability to space the floor offensively and leave opponents scrambling to close out on perimeter shooters while contending with rim attacks from Westbrook and James Harden. While the Clippers’ aforementioned defensive might and ability to play big and small will challenge the Rockets’ versatility, the Clippers have yet to muster an answer for Harden despite their wing depth.
Harden is averaging 37.3 points, five rebounds and 9.7 assists this season against the Clippers. His offense will remain a focal point, but from his perspective, a defensive recovery is needed.
“It’s just one game. It’s just one game,” Harden said about the Houston's previous game in advance of the Clippers vs Rockets matchup. “I don’t know what it was but it was just one game though. Don’t know what we were thinking but we’ll get back to what we do on Thursday.”