The evening starts out auspiciously enough.  On the game's first possession, Chris backs Yao Ming down off the right block with a left-handed dribble; when Chris reaches the paint, he spins baseline, switching to his right hand, darts underneath, then launches himself for a reverse jam.  Chris has shown a knack for using his speed against size and the beginning of the game is a forceful display of this.

There are other promising signs: Maggette enters the game in the first quarter and seems nearly 100% from the outset. The plan to start Aaron Williams and stick him on Yao works.  Williams is a menace, and the assignment frees up Kaman to double off Chuck Hayes.  Tracy McGrady is held reasonably in check and even though the Clippers don't close out on a number of Houston outside jumpers, the Rockets can't hit from the perimeter and let the Clips off the hook. 

But by the end of the first quarter, Kaman appears exhausted.  He rushes shots, doesn't get squared up on his jumpers, doesn't time his hook shots, and generally looks crossed up at every opportunity.  He turns the ball over seven times, looking very much like the Chris of last season – about a second and a half late recognizing the double-teams. For most of this season, Chris has been instinctive about when and from where they're coming.  He spins away from a potential double-team and before the defense can react, he's already five feet from the basket.  But not tonight.  

Coming out of the locker room on their first two possessions in the second half, Houston runs a couple of down screens for McGrady; he curls up from the baseline and launches that patented kicking jumpshot.  Most of the second half was unwatchable – even when the game was tight toward the end of the third quarter.  Dan Dickau's high risk-low reward decisions debilitated the Clippers' offense all night.  And Brevin Knight might want to preserve that "pass-first" reputation and, like, never take another jump-shot.  Ever.  Even in a residential driveway. Dickau & Knight:  44 minutes, 2-15 FGs, 3 assists, 4 turnovers, 5 points.  It's worth noting that very few of those 15 FGAs were contested in any way, shape, or form.  The Ghosts of Rick Brunsons past.

There's a moment in the second quarter when a defensive gamble by Ruben Patterson against McGrady pays off.  Patterson is able to pick McGrady's pocket; Kaman comes up with the loose ball and fires a pretty outlet pass to Patterson, who races upcourt with the ball against Rafer Alston.  Flying down the center lane alongside Patterson is Dickau, a couple steps ahead of Chuck Hayes.  Patterson dishes it over to Dickau at the top of the circle.  Dickau takes an awkward stride, then takes a clumsy dribble.  He elevates from the smiley-face and puts up an awful layup that clanks off the glass, then the front lip of the hoop.  Patterson is right there at the rim to collect the garbage, but badly mistimes his effort and the ball squirts away.  Patterson chases after the ball, slapping at it.  He finally catches up with it at the sideline; he lunges for the ball, scoops it backwards with a heave [classic Patterson.  A guy who hustles…but only as a measure of trying to correct his constant fuckups].  The ball flies twenty feet the other side of the halfcourt line into the hands of McGrady.  McGrady and Alston execute a seamless two-on-two conversion. 

Ruben Patterson and Dan Dickau.  Two of the worst finishers in professional basketball trying -- and woefully failing -- to execute an easy fast break for the Clippers.  Right then it dawned on me how far the Clippers have fallen.