The Rockets just did not have it tonight. They couldn't overcome a Los Angeles Clippers team missing Blake Griffin, and by the end, they looked like a stiff wind could have knocked them over. The All-Star break came just in time.
The Rockets were clearly feeling the effects of a road back-to-back, and were probably looking ahead to a week off. They still hung tough for most of the game, but they were 9-45 from three, and left a good chunk of them short. This doesn't feel like that bad of a loss, when you look at it a certain way. Corey Brewer will be running fast breaks until the heat death of the universe, but everyone else was a bit sluggish.
Big ups to Brewer tonight. He was the only Rocket to have success at the rim, and he LED THE TEAM in points with 22. WHAT DEVILRY IS THIS?
James Harden had a rough, rough game. He only scored 9 points, the second-fewest he's scored in a game all season (Tony Allen and the Grizzlies held him to 6). The Clippers sent hard double teams at him all night, and had DeAndre Jordan waiting at the rim. He affected the game with his passing, but he also got manhandled on defense by JJ Redick, who's exactly the sort of off-the-ball, cutting shooter that gives Harden the most trouble -- as much as he's improved, he still ball-watches.
The Warriors, the Clippers, and the Trailblazers -- all three teams are potential (the last two even likely) playoff opponents, and all three teams have deadeye spot-up shooters who move constantly off the ball, capitalizing on Harden's biggest weakness defensively. That's one of the biggest obstacles in the way of a Finals run for this team. The Rockets' record against those three this year? 1-7.
Of course, not too many teams have a paint destroyer like DeAndre Jordan. The Rockets really felt the absence of Dwight Howard in this game, even though Dwight has his own struggles defending the Clipper giant. Jordan finished with 24 points, 20 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 blocks, and his presence meant fans had to endure a protracted period of Hack-a-Jordan late in the fourth quarter with the Rockets trying to stay in range.
Josh Smith had his kind of stat sheet-filling night, scoring 21 points with 13 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 blocks and 1 steal. He was all over the place, but he also had some rough turnovers, and was asked to guard DeAndre Jordan a lot. Smoove is good, but he's 6'9" and DeAndre is 7'2". There's only one way for that to go. I was shocked Smith got as many rebounds as he did -- he definitely got worked over down there.
Terrence Jones wasn't available today, as the Rockets try to keep his recovery slow and steady and with the All-Star Break here. As a result, Kostas Papanikolaou came back into our lives a little! He had his typical Big Papa game, driving and kicking, shooting poorly, and winning our hearts with crazy passes like this:
Big Papa is the best, and you can't tell me different. (h/t Ryan Dunsmore)
Side note: Man, the Clippers' home crowd is the worst I've seen this season. Maybe it was because Blake just got hurt, but the place felt like a college scrimmage. An intramural scrimmage.
Now, the darkest, coldest week of the NBA season -- the All-Star Break. MVBeard will make his presence felt, with his spot in the Three-Point Contest and his new starting slot in the game itself. After the festivities, the next Rockets game is against the Mavericks on Friday, the 20th. So that should be a fun night of Chandler hating.