Streaking into their matchup with the Rockets, the Clippers find themselves with a rudimentary identity: rebound the ball well (2nd in the NBA in rebound rate) and get out in transition. They are only 17th in the league in pace, but that may have more to do with the instant slowdown when the fastbreak doesn’t present itself. They are hardly close to elite on the defensive end, but Demopoulos’ zone defense is starting to show some positive effects as the Clippers slowly trudge out of the basement in Defensive Efficiency Ratings , they are now 20th in the league after being 30th just a few weeks ago. Dwayne Casey (sound familiar) has learned a similar zone from Demopoulos and it’s working pretty well for the Mavericks, so there is reason to believe that the improved defense can continue.
While the Rockets appear to be a mediocre team, their record is a quotidian 13-15, there is argument that the Rockets are a better team. They’ve won 7 of their last ten games, the last two are wins on the road and they sport a positive point differential despite having a losing record. They have the 10th most efficient offense in the league, spearheaded by Kevin Martin and the settled and recovered Kyle Lowry. Once again, the Rockets have suffered a huge setback with the injury to Yao Ming, but they are not a team to be taken lightly.
Keys to the game:
– Kevin Martin v. Eric Gordon. Both teams’ scoring revolves around their young shooting guards. Kevin Martin is an efficient guard despite owning one of the more awkward shots in the league and he is playing the best basketball of his career. He averages 23.4 points on 45 percent shooting from the field and from 3. Gordon will have some difficulties with Martin’s height (6’7”) but not with strength (Martin only weighs 185).
– Go to the rim. Since Yao is out, the Rockets don’t have much interior defense, let alone shot blockers. The closest interior shot blocking presence is Jordan Hill, but he doesn’t have the offensive repertoire to earn minutes. Brad Miller may be tall, but he might have some of the worst hops in the league. And Chuck Hayes is a great defender, don’t get me wrong, but he’s 6’6” tops. There is no way that any of those guys be able to keep up with Blake, let alone the rest of the Clippers, should they get to the rim.
– Distributor Baron. Come on, Baron. You know you want to pass, it’s what can save your career now. It’ll help the team and make you look better, it’s a win-win. Just keep it up. Manage your shots. Try to take fewer than ten and steer clear from those turnaround jumpers on the baseline and those chucked threes. Please. Last game was great. Even Gordon gave you a compliment.
Injuries and Transactions:
Kaman, Cook and Craig Smith are all out, which led to the signing of Ike Diogu. He’s not exactly the missing piece to a puzzle, but he’ll give some front court depth for a while.