An NBA Western Conference heavyweight match will take place Wednesday night in Houston. The Clippers come to town to square off against the Rockets, in a battle that you’ll want to tune your televisions to ESPN for.
The Rockets haven’t lost since dropping back-to-back games against the Nets and Heat at the beginning of November. The Clippers are coming off of two straight victories, with their last loss coming at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks last Wednesday.
Both teams have 7-3 records and are tied in third place in the West with the Denver Nuggets. The Lakers lead the West with an 8-2 mark, with Utah sitting a half-game back at 8-3.
The Clippers are 6-3-1 overall and 1-2 on the road, against the spread this season. The Rockets are 3-7 overall and 1-3 at home against the spread, interestingly enough. The Rockets are favored by two points headed into the contest, with the O/U set at 234.
Who Runs Los Angeles?
The Lakers and the Clippers both made over their respective rosters this offseason, and so far, it looks like both teams made moves in the right direction. The Clippers only trail the Lakers by a game in the West, and with the return of Paul George imminent, they have no intention of slowing down. It doesn’t look like George will be ready to go Wednesday night, but he should return to the lineup Thursday against the Pelicans.
The Clippers defense has fared very well even without the defensive-minded George. They force 15.9 turnovers per game, which ranks 11th in the NBA. They also rank in the top 10 in both steals and opponents’ field-goal percentage.
The combination of lockdown defenders Kawhi Leonard and Patrick Beverley has already proven deadly to the opposition. Leonard is averaging an astounding 2.3 steals to go along with his 27 points per game, and Beverley isn’t far behind, averaging 1.6 steals per game.
Offensively, the Clippers have been led by Leonard along with Montrezl Harrell and NBA veteran Lou Williams. Williams has been named the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year three times in the last five seasons and is second on the team in both assists and scoring this season, averaging 22.3 points per game to go along with his 5.6 assists. Leonard leads the team in both categories at 26.9 and 5.9, respectively.
The sharp-shooting JaMychal Green coming off the bench hasn’t hurt either. Green is shooting 42 percent from three-point range this year.
Revamping A Winner
The Rockets didn’t do much this offseason, just a few minor moves. You know, little things like swapping two future Hall of Fame point guards with the Thunder. Since swapping Chris Paul for Russell Westbrook, the team somehow looks even faster-paced than it did a season ago. Which is no knock to Paul; Westbrook just plays a more uptempo game than he does. The addition of Westbrook has certainly made the Rockets an even more must-watch team.
The Clippers will be facing a defense that, on paper, shouldn’t be quite as bad as it’s been. Houston has five players that average at least one steal per game, including both James Harden, who averages 1.4, and Westbrook, who averages 2.0. Clint Capela has been a plus rim-protector, averaging 2.2 blocks and 11.7 rebounds per game.
The Rockets offense gets a lot of the spotlight and rightfully so. They rank second in the league in points per game, averaging over 120. Harden has been on a complete scoring tear all season, putting up 37.3 points per game to go with 8.3 assists, while Westbrook is averaging 21.9 points, 7.4 assists, and 8.8 rebounds per game.
P.J. Tucker, Austin Rivers, and Daniels House have all shot great from deep, while they wait for fellow three-point sharpshooters, Harden and Eric Gordon to get it going, though House and Gordon will miss this contest with injuries.
Weighing Your Options
This matchup will certainly give bettors out there a lot to think about. I would love to see what the betting lines would look like with a healthy George for LA. Look for this game to be a high-scoring shootout. There should be outbursts of good defense and turnovers on both sides, but a fast, up-tempo game nonetheless.
Matchups like these typically hype up the superstars for each respective team, and for good reason. The role players for both teams will be extremely significant, but it will likely come down to how well Harden/Westbrook/Capela match up against Leonard/Williams/Harrell with a little Beverley defense sprinkled in. Strap in folks, this should be a fun one.