NBA Playoff Preview: Rockets vs. Clippers

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Chris Paul and James Harden
Blake Griffin and Terrence Jones
(Rockets vs. Clippers has the potential to be just as exciting as the Clippers’ first-round series).

We’ve got a fascinating Western Conference semifinal match up in Rockets-Clippers that features two teams that can prove a lot to themselves and the basketball world by advancing to the Conference Finals. The 3-seed Clippers have never made it that far in the postseason. Neither has their point guard Chris Paul. The 2-seed Rockets are on their own journey of self-worth behind James Harden and a revitalized Dwight Howard. These are two offensive-minded teams with firepower, young stars, and a desire for high pace. Here are some other notes for this series:

– In the four regular season meetings between the Rockets and Clippers (split 2-2) Dwight Howard did not play in one game.

– Chris Paul’s shooting percentage against the Rockets (37 percent) was his worst against any other conference opponent. James Harden’s shooting percentage against the Clippers (36 percent) was his worst against any other conference opponent.

Chris Paul comes into the series with a hamstring injury suffered in Game 7 against the Spurs.

– Every time the Rockets have won a best-of-7 series in five games or less, they’ve reached the NBA Finals (beat Mavericks in 5 in the first round).

Keys for the Rockets:

(Martin)

Attack the Clipper bigs: Front court depth is still a glaring weakness for the Clippers. Houston has to attack Blake and DeAndre with their forward rotation of Terrence Jones and Josh Smith, if not to simply try and wear them out. Those guys have to be active on both ends.

Take care of the ball: This doesn’t just mean not committing too many live ball turnovers, but also taking good shots, because the Clippers can treat bad shots and bad misses as a turnover in their transition offense.

Use your length/athleticism: The Clippers were just faster and more athletic than their first-round opponent. The Rockets can match them in that regard, but they have a particular advantage with the length of their wings and forwards. They’ll need to emphasize that defensively to slow the Clippers down and make them uncomfortable.

(BJ)

– Get DeAndre Jordan into foul trouble: Just as Martin highlighted, it’s extremely important for the Rockets’ bigs to be engaged and active in this series. Los Angeles’ frontcourt depth is relatively thin, especially at the center position where Spencer Hawes backs up DeAndre Jordan. In Houston’s first round series against Dallas, you couldn’t tell that Dwight Howard was hampered by a knee injury for majority of the season. He played hard, anchored the paint defensively and looked spry, which does not bode well for the Clippers. Howard should look to continue his interior dominance this series and get Jordan into foul trouble, as the Clippers have no one else that can handle Howard.

– Win the battle of the benches: Both of these teams have sporadic second-units, but Houston’s bench mob was very effective and consistent against the woeful defense of the Mavericks in the first round. At their peak, the Clippers can resemble a juggernaut defensively, so it’s important for the Rockets to get that same production, or close to it from Josh Smith, Corey Brewer and Pablo Prigioni.

– Attack Chris Paul: Chris Paul is nursing a tender hamstring, so it’s very important the Rockets put pressure on him and make him defend. Defending Jason Terry isn’t what one would consider the most daunting task, but Paul must be attentive on the defense end or “The Jet” can get loose from three-point land. Terry should look to be very aggressive against CP3.

Keys for the Clippers:

(Martin)

Make Harden work: This goes for both sides of the ball. You have to double Harden when you get the opportunity and make others beat you, not by giving them open shots, but by forcing them to make plays.

Be organized: The Clippers have the most efficient offense in the league. When they’re in the flow of their offense it’s hard to stop their rhythm. If this series comes down to execution it should be to the Clippers’ advantage.

Contain in transition: The Rockets are a heady transition team. Corey Brewer is always looking to cherry-pick. They’re sneaky in the open floor and unlike their first-round opponent, the Clippers have a team that can run with them.

(BJ) 

–  Get the ball out of Harden’s handsAs Martin eluded to, the Rockets struggle to produce offense if the ball isn’t in Harden’s palms. If Josh Smith, Corey Brewer and Jason Terry are the one’s that beat you, you live with that, but not with “The Beard” stirring up the pot and cooking the Clippers perimeter defenders.

Three-point defenseThe Rockets are a historically great three-point shooting team, so the Clippers are going to have to do their best to keep them from behind the arc. Closing out hard shouldn’t be an issue, especially with seven-foot defensive behemoth DeAndre Jordan in the paint lurking.

Blake Griffin’s mid-range gameWhen Blake Griffin makes his mid-range jumper, the Clippers become very hard to beat. However, Griffin tends to go through dry-spells from mid-range, and the Clippers can’t afford a drought with an injured Chris Paul trekking up and down the floor.

X-factors:

Martin’s Rockets: Corey Brewer, Jason Terry, Terrence Jones

Clippers: J.J. Redick, Matt Barnes, Jamal Crawford

BJ’s: Rockets: Jason Terry, Terrence Jones, Josh Smith

Clippers: Matt Barnes, Austin Rivers, Jamal Crawford.

Both: Whoever wins the “Hack-A-____” battle.

Series determined by:

Martin – Chris Paul’s health, three-point shooting, individual defense on James Harden, and the front court battle.

BJ – Chris Paul’s hamstring, Clippers’ legs after a quick turnaround from their seven-game war with the Spurs, and bench productivity.

Predictions:

Martin – Rockets in 7.

BJ – Rockets in 6.

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