Houston Rockets vs Los Angeles Clippers: Lineups, preview & prediction 2/28/18
The Clippers have forced their way into a playoff position, but will have their work cut out staying there when they host a Rockets team on a 13-game winning streak
The Clippers used a 41-point final quarter to propel themselves to a vital 122-120 win over the Nuggets on Tuesday. They swapped places with Denver as a result of the victory, moving into eighth place in the Western Conference. Lou Williams was, as usual, the key instigator in the victory. He had 25 points on the back of 10-for-18 shooting from the field, and dished out six assists.
Houston overcame a sluggish first half to outlast the Jazz 96-85 and make it 13 consecutive wins. The victory took them to 47-13, keeping them just half a game ahead of the Warriors with the best record in the west. James Harden had 26 points in the game, but could manage just five assists. It was on the defensive end where the Rockets won the game, keeping Utah to 23 points or under in all four quarters.
Three keys to the game
The Clippers’ form against Houston – The Clippers have seemed to grow an extra leg when playing the Rockets this season. They have been responsible for two of Houston’s 13 losses for the campaign, having won both games played between the two sides by double-figure margins.
The battle from beyond the arc – Houston take a lot of 3-pointers – almost eight more than any other side – and hit a pretty reasonable percentage of them. Anyone who wants to match them invariably needs to connect on a few themselves, but the Clippers haven’t been great from beyond the arc. They hit just 35.4% of their 28.6 attempts per game, the eighth lowest percentage in the league, and will need to do better if they’re going to keep the pace with Houston.
Clippers on back-to-backs – The Clips have been woeful on the second night of back-to-backs, going 2-7 in these games. The losses include an 87-102 defeat at the hands of the Hornets, and a loss to the woeful Memphis Grizzlies, while the only victories they have managed have been against the Kings and the Suns, teams who aren’t quite the caliber of Houston.
Matchup to watch
Austin Rivers vs James Harden – Last time these two sides met, the matchup between Rivers and Harden was one to remember. Rivers had a career night, connecting on six 3-point attempts on his way to 36 points, including 30 in the second half to lead the Clippers to victory. At the other end, prior to being fouled out, Harden had a lazy 51 points, also connecting on six 3-pointers and dishing out eight assists.
The two may not spend the entire night matched up on one another, but they will play important roles for their sides in the backcourt, particularly Harden. The MVP favorite is averaging a career-high 31.4 points per game, dishing out 8.9 assists and grabbing 1.8 steals. Rivers is also having a career-best season, scoring 15.5 points at 42.6% from the field, and contributing 3.8 assists per night.
Los Angeles Clippers predicted starting lineup
PG – Austin Rivers | SG – Tyrone Wallace | SF – Tobias Harris | PF – Wesley Johnson | C – DeAndre Jordan
Houston Rockets predicted starting lineup
PG – Chris Paul | SG – James Harden | SF – Trevor Ariza | PF – PJ Tucker | C – Clint Capela
Despite his 51 points earlier in the season, Harden has historically struggled against the Clippers. His average of 19.1 points per game against them is lower than against every other team except for Boston, and comes as a result of just 40% shooting from the floor and 30% shooting from beyond the arc. His 5.4 assists in these games is also well below his career average and is accompanied by 3.5 turnovers a night.
The Clippers have been given just a 5.5-point head start in this game, and this won’t be nearly enough. They are on the second leg of a back-to-back, and playing a team which has won 13 games in a row, often by big margins. The Rockets are a great bet to cover this line.
Houston won’t have any problems winning this one. Harden may historically struggle against the Clippers, but he will be feeling confident after scoring 51 points against them when they last met. He and Paul will be dominant in the backcourt against Rivers and Lou Williams.
Assuming Capela returns from illness, he will engage in an entertaining battle at center with Jordan, but regardless of who comes out on top in that matchup, the Rockets will be far too strong. They’ll remain on top of the standings with a 116-104 victory.
The game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN. Tip-off is at 10:30pm ET.