L.A. Clippers at Houston Rockets
Time: 7 PM CT (NBA TV)
Spread: HOU -11.5
Odds c/o 5dimes
Houston has been on fire. It had won 17-straight games until a 108-105 loss to the Toronto Raptors, but it followed that game up with a 105-82 blowout of the Dallas Mavericks. Everything seems to be clicking for Mike D’Antoni’s team, including its defense. The Rockets rank No. 9 in defensive rating, limiting teams to 106.7 points per-100 possessions, all the while maintaining the league’s best offense, ranking No. 1 in offensive efficiency with 115.8 points per-100.
The Rockets also, predictably, have the league’s best point differential, with a +8.9 mark, beating out the Warriors by a full point. It is time to take Houston seriously as a contender because nothing is guaranteed to the Warriors, despite having played in the past three NBA Finals. If there is a team to dethrone the Warriors as Western Conference Champions, it is Houston.
Of course, it is easy to credit the evolution of the team to one player, but it has not been all Chris Paul that has been behind the improvement. The defense is anchored by the young Clint Capela, who could be in line for a max contract this offseason. The Rockets felt confident enough in Capela to part ways with Dwight Howard, and that was a wise decision because he is far more impactful than the aged Howard is at this juncture in D12’s career.
Capela has averaged a double-double this season with 14.2 points and 11 rebounds per game, and a PER of 24.8. Beyond Capela, reserve Eric Gordon has found his niche as an NBA player. The sharpshooter is averaging 18.7 points per game off the Houston bench while shooting 9.1 threes per game. Houston as a team averages 42.2 threes attempted per game, which is an NBA league record.
The Rockets connected on 36.6 percent of those, which is the noted difference in what has become the most efficient offensive regular season in league history. The Rockets round out its rotation with some solid vets: Trevor Ariza, Gerald Green, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and the ageless Joe Johnson. In addition to that, Ryan Anderson is a perfect starting-4 for Houston with his range and quick release. All signs point to Chris Paul and James Harden having the perfectly competent of shooters around them to really push this Rockets team deep into the playoffs, potentially far enough to usurp the Dubs’ place as Conference Champions.
Los Angeles may have dealt superstar Blake Griffin, but it still retained leading scorer Lou Williams and re-signed him to a contract. He is averaging 23.3 points 2.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists in 32.5 minutes a night. The Clippers seemingly have just slid new acquisition Tobias Harris directly into the role once occupied by Griffin, and the role has been a revelation for Harris.
Through his first two games (both wins) he averaged 21.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and two assists per game while posting a PER of 17.4. Albeit, those figures are all shy of what Griffin did, but not tremendously so. Pairing Harris along with sharpshooter Danilo Gallinari gives the Clips a good 1-2 scoring punch in the frontcourt, and Austin Rivers is really pretty damn good for a guy who had already been billed a bust.
This year, Rivers is averaging 15.8 points and 3.6 assists per game in 32 minutes a night, thriving as a three-positional talent that surely was expected to be this good, if only on his father’s legacy. DeAndre Jordan was thought to be a trade target for several teams, but he remains in Los Angeles. ‘’?It was rumored the Clippers offered him to Houston in exchange for Clint Capela and were rebuked, but this writer makes no claim to such sources or validates the validity of said-rumors. No matter the case, Jordan forms the third part of a staunch frontline for the Clippers and the team hardly lacks in depth.
Veteran combo guard Avery Bradley was also acquired with Harris, and he is generally regarded as one of the most underrated players and best one-on-one perimeter defenders in the Association. Bradley is averaging just 10 points and three assists through his first two games, but the last outing he was an efficient 6 of 10 from the floor with three steals.?He makes his impact, in short.
The Clippers might not be the chic pick as true contenders, but it reasons that L.A. can absolutely sneak into the playoffs and be a formidable opponent (in other words not be swept necessarily) to one of the top-tier teams in the West.
The team has sufficient leadership, talent, and just because its identity is not really the same without Chris Paul and Blake Griffin does not mean that these pros cannot come together to gel quickly before the postseason arrives. L.A. should remain on the radar of dark horse sneaky teams that have gone under the radar. There is enough talent on the roster to put up a fight.