It will have been five days since the Houston Rockets have played a meaningful basketball game. The Rockets dispatched their in-state rival, Dallas Mavericks, in five games and they are rewarded with a second-round matchup with the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Rockets and Clippers split their four regular matchups, two games a piece.
A few quick notes about those regular season contests: Dwight Howard did not play in any of those games, Blake Griffin missed two games (one win and one loss), James Harden averaged exactly 20 points per contest (high of 34, low of nine), each team won once on their home floor and won once on the road, the Clippers won their games by an average of 16 points, the Rockets 3.5 points.
What does all this mean heading into game one on Monday night? Absolutely nothing.
We have two teams meeting each other in the playoffs for the first time in history. There is a mix of superstars, MVP candidates, guys who have won rings, who have been to the Finals and for whom this is their first taste of the postseason.
This matchup reminds me of an opponent the Rockets saw quite a bit in the 90's, especially in the second round: the Seattle Supersonics.
It's not exactly the Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp vs. Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler battlers. Chris Paul isn't exactly Gary Payton (who is?) and Griffin is the closest thing to Shawn Kemp since Shawn Kemp. Dwight isn't Hakeem and Drexler isn't Harden. The roles are there and each has players who grew up in Seattle watching the Sonics and Rockets battle.
What are some of the keys to Game 1?
Doc Rivers vs. Kevin McHale
Both coaches could have been viewed as the inferior counterpart in their round one matchups. Here they stand against one another. Rivers having out-coached Gregg Popovich and McHale using the younger and deeper Rockets to oust Rick Carlisle.
We have seen that Rivers can make the moves necessary to win championships as a coach, and he made adjustments in the Spurs series that you might not have seen last year. Examples: getting Blake more rest at the start of the fourth and pulling DeAndre Jordan during Hack-a-Jordan.
McHale likewise wasn't afraid to make some moves this year he wouldn't have done last year. Would Clint Capela have played in the Portland series last year? I would guess no. This season he got Joey Dorsey's minutes and he produced. If Griffin is going nuts like he did in the Spurs series, will McHale put Howard on him, a la Olajuwon-Kemp?
Chris Paul vs. Rockets Point Guards
One thing of note is Jason Terry and Pablo Prigioni might not spend a total combined minute guarding Paul this whole series. That duty is going to fall to Trevor Ariza and Corey Brewer.
With Patrick Beverley being ruled out of the postseason by McHale on Saturday, Terry and Prigioni have to knock down their open shots, hit their free throws and keep turnovers to a minimum.
Paul had eight steals during the regular season against the Rockets, and reviewing the tape (DVR) forced countless other turnovers against Terry and Prigioni too. Paul could be switched over to Harden depending on lineups, but I expect him to be on the Rockets points doing his best to make it four-on-five offensively each trip down the floor while trapping from the wings and jumping in the passing lanes.
Hopefully Ariza and Brewer work him hard on offense so he takes some defensive possessions off.
Late addition: Chris Paul has been listed as questionable and may not play. Doc Rivers thinks he will be out of this game.
J.J. Redick vs. James Harden
Harden vs. a Dukie who has some how managed to stay around the league longer than most of his Blue Devil counterparts.
Redick drew the one-on-one matchup with Harden most of the time the two teams met, but Chris Paul, Matt Barnes or basically anyone else not on him was shaded toward him or had one to one and a half eyes on him. Because of this, The Beard had a couple of bad games, an okay night and actually got free for one game.
Will we see more length on him in this contest with Matt Barnes getting the assignment or will Redick get the call?
Matt Barnes vs. Trevor Ariza
Both guys can defend, one is more of an instigator and the other can still score. The advantage of this definitely swings toward Ariza, but how much time do they see against one another?
Blake Griffin vs. Terrence Jones
The Rockets are definitely going to need to get production out of Jones in this series. He's not going to have to score 25 points a night (hopefully), but he should be able to provide 14-10ish a night. Griffin is at his best as a help defender blocking shots or filtering his man into Jordan. It honestly would not shock me to see Josh Smith get almost double the minutes of Jones through this game and the series in general.
When in there, Jones is going to have to bang, make Griffin work for each of his defensive boards. This can't be a Kemp vs. Robert Horry situation. Who remembers how that went? I do.
That's why I think we'll end up seeing a lot of Dwight Howard on Griffin, especially in tight games or if Griffin is just having his way offensively.
Jones will probably see a lot of DeAndre Jordan as his defensive assignment.
DeAndre Jordan vs. Dwight Howard
This isn't anywhere near the Earvin "Not Magic" Johnson vs. The Dream. Again, I expect the switch of Howard to Griffin and Jones to Jordan.
Jordan is going to clean up on the boards, he's going to block shots and force people to take tough shots in the paint. He'll also miss free throws. You can say a lot of the same about Dwight Howard, but offensive plays will be run for him.
Bench vs. Bench
Josh Smith, Corey Brewer, Pablo Prigioni and Clint Capela vs. Jamal Crawford, Spencer Hawes, Hedo Turkoglu and Glen Davis.
Rivers will go a bit deeper on his bench, but McHale is going to get a lot more production. Davis is questionable with an ankle injury and Hawes will only play if he has to.
If Paul isn't able to go that means no Austin Rivers off the bench and a lot more minutes for an ice cold Crawford. Suddenly that 10-man rotation for Rivers becomes eight, maybe even seven.
Let's go to the tale of the tape, reviewing their season stats against each other and showing projected starters.
Matchup Preview | May 4, 2015
Los Angeles Clippers