Los Angeles Clippers: Rockets

Clippers head home following Grammy trip

February, 12, 2013
Blake Griffin stood in the back of the visitor’s locker room at Madison Square Garden on Sunday afternoon before the Los Angeles Clippers got ready to head to Philadelphia for the final game of their 8-game, 14-day road trip.

“We’d like to get a win there,” Griffin said. “And have a feeling of turning the ship around, no pun intended.”

Griffin can be a comedian during his postgame news conferences after wins, so when he saw the blank look on the faces of a couple of reporters, he smiled and said, “You know, like a Clipper ship.”

And with that, Griffin probably became one of the few Clippers players ever to demonstrate that he actually knew the origin of the team’s name, which came from the fast sailing ships or “clippers” that used to pass through the San Diego harbor when the team resided there.

On Wednesday, the Clippers will play the Houston Rockets, another team that can trace its roots and name to San Diego, which was the home of the Atlas missile and booster rocket program when the team was formed.

It will be the Clippers’ only home game during a 24-day period that includes nine road games and the NBA All-Star break. The good news for the Clippers is after this stretch they will finish the season with 15 of their final 26 games at home.

Also on the good-news front for the Clippers is they have appeared to right the ship -- pun intended -- after winning back-to-back road games against New York and Philadelphia after dropping 8-of-11 games.

They look like a different team with Chris Paul back after missing 12 games with a bruised right knee cap, and Griffin back after missing a couple of games with a left hamstring strain. On Monday night, the Clippers didn’t just beat the 76ers -- they clobbered them, 107-90, and once again showed how dangerous they can be when they’re healthy and have Paul running the show.

“To me, that was the most impressive performance that I’ve seen from a team against us this year,” 76ers coach Doug Collins said. “Speed, size, defense. They shot the ball. Their defense was tremendous. Their bigs were so active and quick. They could get out on top of the floor, trap the pick-and-rolls, get back. They were tremendous, so the credit goes to them. … When they’re healthy, they’re as good as anybody. They were incredible, so my hat’s off to them. They were tremendous. They played great.”

Collins has been around some talented teams during his career, but believes the Clippers may be one of the deepest teams he’s seen in the league when they are at full strength.

“When you have, imagine two Thad Youngs out there. One’s 7 feet tall, 260 pounds, the other one’s 6-9, 260. That’s the kind of athleticism they have,” Collins said. “You come in off the bench with Lamar Odom, he can get out and do the same thing. [Ryan] Hollins is an active big guy as well, so all four of their big guys can really get out and be very, very aggressive. They swarmed us, they turned us over, got us on our heels and just -- we never recovered.”

Paul’s statistics, as impressive as they are most nights, never really do him proper justice. Before his injury the Clippers were 32-9 at the midway point of the season -- tied for the best record in the league -- and without him, the Clippers went 6-6.

“Well, he controls the whole game,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. “That's what the great players do. He was looking for his shot. He got us going early, but defensively, he kind of disrupts things as well. People forget he's a first-team all-defensive guy and leads the league in steals, usually. He causes havoc out there, and he disrupted them. We had an aggressive game plan going in, especially playing back-to-backs, and losing a couple of starters didn't help, but other guys stepped up.”

That’s right. After playing two games with a healthy roster for the first time this season, the Clippers lost Caron Butler and Chauncey Billups before Monday’s game in Philadelphia with sore lower backs. Both are listed as game-time decisions for Wednesday.

Even without them in the lineup, Paul was able to take over the game Monday night in Philadelphia and finished with 21 points, 11 assists and 5 steals as the Clippers jumped out to a 32-point lead. He was also able to spread the wealth as Griffin finished with 20 points and Jamal Crawford also had 20 points off the bench.

“I think he just knows the offense really well, he commands attention around the ball,” Griffin said. “On ball screens he's tough because I think a lot of times, guys are searching for DeAndre [Jordan} and I because they don't want to give up dunks, and he's knifing through and dropping it in.”

Rapid Reaction: Clippers 117, Rockets 109

January, 15, 2013
So that’s how a championship team from Los Angeles plays through injuries.

With Chris Paul missing his second straight game with a bruised right kneecap, the Los Angeles Clippers notched their second impressive road win in as many days.

As their starting backcourt of Paul and Chauncey Billups sat on the bench in suits, the Clippers beat the Houston Rockets 117-109 to improve their record to 30-9, second-best in the NBA, and win their 30th game faster than any other team in franchise history.

Here are three takeaways from the game:

Backcourt pickup

Without Paul and Billups, who has missed all but three games this season with peroneal tendonitis in his left foot, the rest of the Clippers guards stepped up and made up for their absence. Jamal Crawford (30), Eric Bledsoe (19) and Willie Green (15) finished with season-high point totals and came through in the second half as the Clippers took a one-point deficit and jumped out to a 21-point lead in the fourth quarter. Crawford not only scored a game-high 30 points but scored 12 straight points in the first three minutes of the fourth quarter to put the game away. “He’s a bad boy,” Grant Hill said as Crawford got ready to do an on-court interview with Prime Ticket after the game.

“Hopefully, we can get Chris back healthy [on Thursday],” Crawford said. “If not, we have to hold down the fort until he gets back.”

Defense tightens

For the second straight night, the Clippers came with a defensive intensity that had been missing during their recent homestand. Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro preached the importance of defense to his team at the half and told them that how they played in the third quarter and their ability to contain James Harden would dictate the final result. The Clippers certainly came through on both fronts. They held Houston to just 18 points after Houston had scored 30 in the third quarter. And after Harden scored 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting in the first quarter, he was held to just 9 points on 3-of-12 shooting in the final three quarters.

“Coach told us we had to play defense,” Crawford said. “We had scored enough points, but we had to buckle down on defense. I thought we did a good job of that in third quarter, the starters set the tone and we followed suit.”

Balance and options

Most of the attention after the Clippers’ win will go to the play of their backcourt, but the key to the Clippers’ success this season is getting contributions from everyone on the roster. Blake Griffin scored 19 points and had a season-high eight assists. Lamar Odom scored only two points but grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds. Matt Barnes was once again a consistent contributor off the bench with 18 points and three rebounds. And perhaps one of the biggest bright spots for the Clippers over the past three games has been the return of Grant Hill, who is beginning to get his feet back under him after missing the first 36 games of the season with bone bruises in his right knee.

“It feels good to be on a good team,” Hill said. “There’s a lot of support and care for one another. We have a chance to win every night, and this team has a chance to win a championship.”

What to watch: Clippers-Rockets

March, 17, 2012
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.

What to watch: Clippers-Rockets

March, 3, 2012
Clippers (21-13) vs. Houston Rockets (21-16) at Toyota Center, 6 p.m. PT

Five storylines to track:

1. Breaking bad: Before the Clippers left Los Angeles for their six-game road trip, they dismissed any notion that they had gotten into a rut when it came to closing out games late. After finding ways to pull out close games earlier in the season, the Clippers had seen late leads vanish against San Antonio, Golden State and Minnesota. “If this happens in Sacramento and the next game, then I have something to worry about,” Clippers guard Chris Paul said. “It's something that can be corrected. ... I'm not panicking.” Well, it didn’t happen against Sacramento, but it did happen against Phoenix and now the Clippers have lost four of their last six games and are 6-6 since losing Chauncey Billups for the season last month. If the Clippers don’t turn things around against Houston on Sunday, there will be plenty for Paul and his teammates to be worried about at the midway point of their 10-day road trip.

2. Bench rising: After getting outscored by the Timberwolves’ bench 72-11 on Thursday, the Clippers’ much-maligned bench has stepped up their production in the last two games. The Clippers bench, which is averaging 22.9 points this season, scored 32 points against Phoenix and 41 points against Sacramento. The biggest difference has been the increased output from Clippers forward Kenyon Martin, who is shooting 61.1 percent from the field and averaging 11.0 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.0 blocks in the last two games. Clippers guard Mo Williams, who is a candidate for the Sixth Man of the Year award, is averaging 15.5 points and 4.0 assists over the last two games while shooting 63.6 percent (7-of-11) from beyond the arc and 44.4 percent (12-of-27) from the field.

3. Second-half switch: Although the Clippers have failed to close out games recently, the reason they have even been in most of their games has been the play of Paul in the second half. In the last seven games, Paul has scored 59.1 percent of his points in the second half. During that span he has scored 94 of his 159 points in the final 24 minutes of the game. Paul scored a season-high 36 points at the beginning of this stretch against Portland and scored 12 of his 16 points against Phoenix on Friday in the last two quarters. Paul says he likes to get his teammates involved in the first half, but he may have to spread his scoring out more evenly so the Clippers don’t have to rely on him so much late in games.

4. Butler’s not doing it: In the Clippers' last seven games Caron Butler's production has dropped off considerably from his form earlier in the season. He is averaging just 8.1 points per game during that stretch while shooting 32.3 percent (23-of-71 FG) from the field and 11.7 percent (2-of-17) from beyond the arc. Not coincidentally, the Clippers are 3-4 in their last seven games. Butler had averaged 15.3 points through his first 25 games with the Clippers while shooting 44 percent from the field and 38.6 percent from 3-point range and hit double-figures in 22 of those 25 games. Since Billups was lost for the season last month, however, Butler simply hasn’t been the same. He no longer gets the same open looks on the weakside he did when Billups was penetrating the gaps and causing defenses to respect him.

5. A thin line: One of the biggest reasons the Clippers have struggled to score in their last two games is they have struggled just to get to the free-throw line. Against Sacramento and Phoenix, the Clippers shot a combined 17 free throws. Just as surprising as that number, however, is that the Clippers, normally a poor free-throw shooting team, hit 16 of those free throws (94.1 percent). The bigger problem is that the Clippers’ opponents have shot 35 more free throws than them during this stretch. Since the 1985-86 season, the Clippers have attempted nine or fewer foul shots in a game just 15 times, and never before in back-to-back games. The Clippers are 1-14 when shooting under 10 free throws, with their lone win coming against Sacramento on Thursday.