Houston Rockets vs. Los Angeles Clippers game preview

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

The Rockets face their first true test tonight in Los Angeles when they take on the Clippers.

Three games, three ugly wins.

The Rockets have put together two great halves of basketball (first vs. Dallas, second vs. Utah), three blah halves, and one absolutely terrible half.

I know the Mavericks have playoff aspirations in The Loaded West (seriously, everyone describes the west as loaded so often that it should just be called TLW), but the other two opponents for the Rockets are teams that won't be near the playoffs when the season ends. With that in mind, it's been a disappointing start to the season for the Rockets considering that they should take care of those kinds of teams without difficulty. And yes, I know Utah was a back-to-back, but it was for the Jazz too.

Tonight is the first test of the reason for the Rockets when it comes to joining the league's elite teams. The Clippers are a safe bet to be a top 4 team in TLW, which is where the Rockets want to end the season.

Tip off is at 9:30pm CST.

Matchups:

Point Guard: Jeremy Lin vs. Chris Paul

Lin took too long to realize that he could blow by Jamaal Tinsley. That can't happen.

Lin can get past CP3, but needs to focus more on defense tonight. Paul is the key to the Clippers (keen insight I know) so how he goes the Clippers go.

Advantage: Clippers

Shooting Guard: James Harden vs. J.J. Redick

Redick is a fantastic pickup for the Clippers. He gives Doc Rivers a Ray Allen-type guy to shoot and open up the floor for Paul.

I expect Harden to check Dudley and for Parsons to watch Redick since the Duke product will be running around everywhere.

Advantage: Rockets

Small Forward: Chandler Parsons vs. Jared Dudley

It's always interesting to remember that Dudley played more of a power forward in college yet completely transitioned to small forward in the NBA. This is what Morey tried for years to find (undersized PF that could play SF) until Parsons came along.

Speaking of Parsons, he played his role perfectly against the Jazz. When the rest of the offense sputters, he has to be able to make some things happen and keep the Rockets in the game. He showed that he could do that with 20 first half points, accounting for half the Rockets' total at the time.

Advantage: Even

Power Forward: Dwight Howard vs. Blake Griffin

Count me in the group that doesn't understand the Griffin hype. Yes he can dunk, but he does very little else. Until he develops a real post game or a consistent jump shot, his offense will never be fantastic. And his defense leaves plenty to desire.

Howard has to eat him up when he gets the chance. Howard will probably be guarded by DeAndre Jordan for most of the night, so he'll have to do work there too.

Advantage: Rockets

Center: Omer Asik vs. DeAndre Jordan

Jordan is the media's early season darling pick for Defensive Player of the Year. He's a freak athlete that will get the crowd pumped with his high-flying acrobatics and will generally just make you go "Wow" at least twice per game. But like Griffin his offense is non-existent other than putback and alley-oop dunks. His defense does look improved in the early going.

What Jordan has in athleticism, Asik makes up for in elite defensive ability. Asik's footwork and general basics are better than Jordan's, but it's the Episcopal product that can do slightly more on offense.

Advantage: Even

Bench

Rockets: Francisco Garcia, Omri Casspi, Aaron Brooks

Clippers: Matt Barnes, Jamal Crawford, Darren Collison, Byron Mullens, Ryan Hollins

Advantage: Even

Prediction: Clippers run away early and hold on 110-91.

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