3 Keys To A Rockets Victory Over The Clippers

The Rockets must do these three things to take down the Clippers

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  • The Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Clippers are both championship contenders and two of the best teams in the NBA. They will be meeting for the final time in the regular season Thursday night on national television in Houston. The Clippers' record is 42-19 and they would be the second seed in the Western Conference if the playoffs started today. The Rockets’ record is 39-21 and they would be the fourth seed.

  • The Rockets have won two of their three meetings with the Clippers. Paul George did not play for Los Angeles in one of the games that the Rockets won, though. This meeting with the Clippers will be the Rockets’ first game against Los Angeles since Houston traded Clint Capela and turned to small-ball.

  • The Rockets will need to avoid getting off to a slow start against the Clippers. Since the Capela trade, the Rockets have not led at the end of the first half in six of their 10 games. In their last two matchups with the Clippers, the Rockets fell behind by double-digits in the first half.

  • The Rockets will need to win the scoring battle from the three-point line by a significant margin to beat the Clippers. Houston has hit 64 more three-point shots than their opponents since the Capela trade. In two of their three losses since the trade, the Rockets did not win the three-point battle with their opponent.

  • The Rockets will need to force turnovers from the Clippers. The move to small-ball has allowed the Rockets to run more athletic lineups than their opponents, which has led to an increase in opponent turnovers and steals for the Rockets. The Rockets have 27 steals in their first three meetings with the Clippers.

  • The Rockets opened as one-point favorites and the over/under opened at a healthy 237 points. Check out the LIVE ODDS.

1. Don't Get Out To A Slow Start

The Rockets are a completely different team than the team that has faced the Clippers three times before the new year. Since then, the Rockets have traded their starting center Clint Capela and moved to small ball. 6’5 PJ Tucker is now their starting center. The tallest player in Houston’s standard rotation is 6’8.

The early returns from Houston’s transformation to small ball have been promising. Russell Westbrook has averaged 33.6 points per game on 56.3% shooting from the field since Capela’s trade. James Harden’s offensive rating has also increased significantly since the trade. The Rockets have won seven of the 10 games they’ve played following Capela’s departure. 

However, to the chagrin of their first half backers, the Rockets have not always started strong. The Rockets have either tied or lost the first half in six of the 10 games they’ve played since the trade. To make matters more alarming, Houston has trailed at halftime in two of their first three meetings with the Clippers. While the Rockets did come back to win one of the games against the Clippers and did win four of the games in which they did not lead at halftime since the Capela trade, Los Angeles is too strong of a team to spot a significant halftime deficit. The Rockets cannot afford a lethargic start if they expect to defeat the Clippers Thursday night.

2. Win The Battle From Distance

Mike D’Antoni’s best teams have always counted on running up the score against their opponents from the three-point line. Houston was already a prolific three-point shooting team before the Capela trade. The move to small ball has only amplified the Rockets’ ability to overwhelm their opponents from distance.

Before the trade, the Rockets averaged 14.9 three-point field goals per game. Since the Capela trade, the Rockets have hit 17.7 three-point field goals per game. Before the trade, the Rockets averaged 2.8 more three-point field goals per game than their opponent. Since the Capela trade, the Rockets have averaged 6.4 more three-point field goals per game than their opponent. Houston’s acquisition of Robert Covington in the Capela trade has clearly paid dividends as Covington has averaged 3.2 three-point field goals per game as a Rocket.

Houston did not have any advantage from the three-point line in two of their three losses since the Capela trade. The Rockets have only hit a combined four more three-pointers than the Clippers in their first three meetings this season and will probably need to match that gap from distance in the final game to defeat them.

3. Force Turnovers

While it’s no surprise that the Rockets have improved offensively since jettisoning their center, what has been surprising is how well the Rockets have played defensively since moving to small ball. The smaller lineups that the Rockets play without a traditional starting center gives them an athleticism advantage that they have exploited to force turnovers from their opponents. Since the Capela trade, Houston’s opponents have turned the ball over an average of 17.5 times a game. The Clippers rank in the bottom half of the NBA in terms of taking care of the basketball. In their first three games with the Clippers, the Rockets had 27 steals and forced 50 turnovers from Los Angeles. The Rockets will need to apply pressure on the Clippers and force a significant number of turnovers to prevail in this rubber match.

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