The Clippers and the Rockets played in one of the games of the season on Nov. 22, and the bad blood has carried since the final buzzer.
James Harden was famously peeved that LA kept sending doubles at him, despite possessing arguably the two best individual perimeter defenders in the league. That practice has continued ever since, and he has gotten accustomed to the extra attention. The Clippers will probably have to continue to vary their defensive strategy to keep former MVP on his toes.
The Rockets and Clippers are notoriously are a little chippy with one another, given all of their personal ties. Doc Rivers has to coach against his son Austin, who he traded away from Los Angeles. Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, and Montrezl Harrell were all traded from Houston to the Clippers, and not exactly treated as assets in that transaction.
And Russell Westbrook and Paul George were former teammates just last season, on an entirely different roster, before George's stealth trade request blew up the NBA power dynamic as we know it.
From the mouth of Ivica Zubac at today's shootaround, "They don't like us. We don't like them. I don't know. But it's been fun every game. It's so competitive every time. We play hard against them. They play hard. Just super competitive. Can't wait to get out on the floor against them and try to get a win."
The Clippers are certainly projected to get the win (4.5-point favorites in Vegas, if you're wondering). They've only lost one game at home all season, and neither Kawhi Leonard or Paul George suited up for that contest against the league-leading Milwaukee Bucks. After laying in an egg in their most recent nationally-televised game, they're certainly motivated to have a better showing against the Rockets.
Some other things to watch for:
- How effective will Russell Westbrook be? Westbrook's search for his own offense, particularly down the stretch, killed Houston the last time these two teams played, but he's been on a noticeable upswing, as our Michael Shapiro detailed.
- The Clippers haven't looked super fluid on offense against the best defenses. Houston isn't a great defense, but their ability to switch forces their opponents into isolation tendencies, and we know the Clippers would rather avoid that, even if PG and Kawhi (not to mention Lou and Trez) are perfectly capable of scoring that way.
- Who wins the 3-point battle? LA's volume has been improved since George joined the lineup, but it's still low compared to the 50 threes per game Houston averages. The Clippers also surrender more threes than league average, and if the Rockets start off shooting well, it could be a long night for the LA defense.