HOUSTON ROCKETS (42-19)
at LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS (36-23)
Tip-off: Wednesday, 10:30 p.m. ET
Line: Los Angeles -2, Total: 232.5
The Rockets will be hoping to get back into the win column with a victory over the Clippers on Wednesday.
While they are solidly in third place in the Western Conference standings, the Houston Rockets have lost two of their last four games following a 117-108 home loss to the Pacers on Monday night (IND +10). Their previous loss was a 117-109 game against Miami on Feb. 15 (MIA +10), and they then won their first two games after the All-Star break against New Orleans and Minnesota. At 42-19 they have a 4.5-game lead on Utah for their No. 3 seed, and at 34-27 against the spread they have the fifth-best ATS record in the league. Theyíll retake the floor on Thursday night in Los Angeles against the Clippers, who lost to Golden State and San Antonio recently before beating Charlotte 124-121 in overtime on Sunday night at home (CHA +11). At 36-23 (30-29 ATS), Los Angeles is only half a game back of the Jazz and one game up on the six-seed Grizzlies. Since 1996, home teams avenging a loss of 20 points or moreóLos Angeles lost 140-116 at Houston on Dec. 30óare only 19-50 ATS when coming off a home loss of three points or fewer. In the same timeframe, games involving two teams with winning percentages between .600 and .750 and one team that went over the total by more than 24 points in its previous game (LAC) are 59-27 Over against totals of at least 200.
The Rocketsí astronomical rise up the standings from last yearís .500 record can largely be attributed to two decisions made by new head coach Mike DíAntoni. The first was to construct an offense built almost entirely around shooting three-pointers. Houston shoots 40.4 threes per game, nearly seven more than the second-place Cavaliers and nearly eight more than the team season record of 32.7, which the Rockets set two seasons ago. Despite that insane volume of attempts, they still rank in the top half of the league with a team 3PT% of 36.2%. DíAntoniís second decision, which correlates closely with the first, was to move superstar James Harden (28.8 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 11.3 APG, 1.5 SPG) to point guard. With Harden at the helm, the Rocketsí offense is second in the league with an offensive efficiency rating of 111.8 points scored per 100 possessions. The change has also opened Harden up to posting an MVP-worthy statline: Heís third in the league in scoring and first in assists. Among shooting guards, heís first in rebounding and third in steals. Heís surrounded by deadly shooters, including SG Lou Williams (18.9 PPG, 3.1 APG), who was added at the trade deadline. Williams was having a career-best season on the lowly Lakers, and early signs show that heíll fit in well in Houston. In his first three games with the team, heís averaging 24.0 points per game in 26.7 minutes per game on 14-of-28 three-point shooting. He joins SG Eric Gordon (17.1 PPG), PF Ryan Anderson (13.9 PPG, 4.9 RPG) and SF Trevor Ariza (11.7 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 1.9 SPG) as volume shooters on the perimeter. Even PG Patrick Beverley (9.4 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 4.5 APG, 1.6 SPG) throws up 4.3 threes per game. C Clint Capela (12.0 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 1.4 BPG), PF Montrezl Harrell (9.1 PPG, 3.7 RPG) and C Nene Hilario (8.3 PPG, 3.9 RPG) are the teamís more traditional interior players.
After missing 15 games with a thumb injury, PG Chris Paul (22.3 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 9.8 APG, 2.2 SPG) is back on the court and the Clippers lineup is at full health for the first time in a month. He has played 33 and 41 minutes in his first two games, respectively, and made up for a 4-of-18 shooting night against Charlotte with nine rebounds and 17 assists in the same game. Heís one of the best point guards in the game on either end of the floor, and his return means the Clippers no longer need to lean so heavily on backups Austin Rivers (12.4 PPG, 2.9 APG) and Raymond Felton (7.6 PPG, 2.9 RPG). Felton hasnít played more than 14 minutes in either of the two games since Paul came back. The ripple effect continues throughout the lineup: SG Jamal Crawford (12.2 PPG) wonít have to create as many shots for himself, and will therefore force fewer of them. SG J.J. Redick (15.0 PPG) is at his best when paired with Paul, and he should start getting plenty of catch-and-shoot looks coming off of screens. He had 22 points on 9-of-16 shooting against Charlotte. C DeAndre Jordan (12.3 PPG, 13.7 RPG, 1.7 BPG) and his limited offensive repertoire perhaps benefit most from Paulís presence, and he had a monstrous 20-point, 19-rebound night against Charlotte wherein he made nine of 10 shots. Of course, PF Blake Griffin (22.3 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 5.1 APG, 1.1 SPG) will hold onto his substantial role in the offense. He had 29 against San Antonio and a season-high 43 points against the Hornets to go along with 10 rebounds and five assists. He averaged 26.3 PPG on 18.4 shots per game in February, and heís averaging 21.5 shots per game in the last two games with Paul. SF Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (5.9 PPG, 1.1 SPG) will play anywhere from 15 to 35 minutes in a game as a starter at the 3 spot, while C Marreese Speights (9.7 PPG, 4.6 RPG) likes to stretch the floor off the bench.