What to watch: Clippers-Rockets

March, 17, 2012
3/17/12
8:54
AM PT
Clippers (24-18) vs. Houston Rockets (24-20) at Staples Center, 12:30 p.m. PT

Five storylines to track:

1. Freefalling: The Clippers’ fall from grace continues as the team has lost 9 of their last 14 games and is 9-11 since Chauncey Billups was lost for the season last month. They usually find themselves tied or in the lead in the fourth quarter before losing late as was the case Thursday night against the Phoenix Suns where they were up 12 points in the fourth quarter before losing 91-87. The Clippers are now 8-9 in games decided by five points or less and haven’t won back-to-back games in over a month. One of the few wins the Clippers did pull out late recently was against the Houston Rockets on March 4, where they won 105-103 on the road before losing back-to-back games to Minnesota and New Jersey.

2. Billups back: After returning home to Denver for surgery on his ruptured Achilles heel, Billups will return to Staples Center for the first time since Feb. 2 to be with the Clippers. He will continue his rehabilitation with the team and plans to be with the Clippers through the rest of the season. His presence could not have come at a better time. After the Clippers blew a 17-point lead to a Suns team playing without Steve Nash and Grant Hill, the Clippers met for over an hour after the game in the locker room about the direction of the team and the lack of urgency. The Clippers, who were one of the top five teams in the NBA before Billups' injury, will now look to the veteran point guard for leadership in the locker room and on the bench.

3. Welcome Young: Just before the end of Thursday’s NBA trade deadline, the Clippers made a deal to acquire Nick Young from Washington for a future second round pick and Brian Cook. Young will be at Staples Center for Saturday’s game against Houston but it is unknown if he will play. The plan is for Young to eventually start alongside Chris Paul in the backcourt and give the Clippers a 6-foot-7 scorer on the wing. The move would push Randy Foye, who had been starting in place of Billups, to the bench. The move will strengthen what had been a weak unit offensively outside of Mo Williams. Young might not help the Clippers’ porous defense but he is capable of hitting open three-pointers and at least making life more difficult for the bigger guards the Clippers couldn't match up with. Young is averaging 16.6 points per game this season in 32 starts.

4. Jordan’s decline: DeAndre Jordan finally played more than a couple seconds in the fourth quarter on Thursday for the first time since March 4. The results, however, didn’t change the outcome of the game as the Clippers shot 21.4 percent in the final period and 50 percent from the free-throw line and blew 12-point lead in the process. March has been a difficult month for Jordan who is only averaging 4.9 points and 7.4 rebounds in 20.5 minutes per game. Thursday’s game against the Suns, however, was his best game since Feb. 28 as he finished with 11 points, 9 rebounds and 4 blocked shots and played close to 8 minutes in the final period.

5. Butler’s rise: After a month-long scoring slump, Caron Butler has been shooting the ball better in the last two games. Butler has averaged 13.5 points, 3 assists and 2 rebounds while shooting 50 percent (11-of-22) from the field and 75 percent (3-of-4) from long-range over the last two games. The Clippers need to get Butler going because when he scores over 13 points they are 16-8. The problem for Butler this season has been consistency. Against Minnesota on March 5, Butler failed to score for the first time in six years and went 0-of-6 from the field. One week later against the Golden State Warriors on March 12 he only scored 1 point and was again 0-of-6 from the field.

Arash Markazi

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Blake Griffin
PTS AST STL MIN
22.8 4.3 0.7 34.8
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsD. Jordan 13.0
AssistsC. Paul 9.7
StealsC. Paul 1.9
BlocksD. Jordan 2.4