1. The Point Guard Issue
We hate to keep beating a dead horse, as this has been covered, covered and then covered again, but the Rockets' biggest weakness just so happens to be one of the Clippers' greatest strengths. Even if Chris Paul misses additional time, the Clippers Plan B involves prolific scorer Jamal Crawford and sudden Rocket-killer Austin Rivers, and the Rockets still have two of the league's worst defenders at the point.
Rivers and Crawford both exploded in game one for 17 and 21 points respectively, in what is becoming an all-too-familiar scenario this post season. In order to advance, the Rockets will need to counter this potential pitfall with some lineup creativity.
As Max astutely pointed out, the Rockets would be wise to utilize a healthy dose of Trevor Ariza playing defense in the back court moving forward, hoping to counter the quickness of the Clippers point guards with a little physicality. Corey Brewer can help in a similar fashion.
Anything that gets JET and Pablo permanently off of Paul, Rivers and Crawford and on to spot-up shooters J.J. Redick and Matt Barnes is perfectly fine by me.
If Ariza and Brewer can help spackle up the Rockets' biggest deficiency, Houston will be swinging over this trap like Pitfall Harry over some gators.
2. The Clippers front court is just as explosive as the Rockets
One of the deciding factors in the series against Dallas was the clear Rockets advantage in the front court. Houston utilized its depth and athleticism in the front court to outrebound the Mavs in three of their four victories. Three out of the four wins also featured advantages in offensive rebounds, and consequently, advantages in second chance points.
Unfortunately for the Rockets, this isn't an aging Tyson Chandler and the double lead-footed mummies Dirk Nowitzi and Amar'e Stoudemire. Insert instead certifiable beast DeAndre Jordan and walking mismatch Blake Griffin.
Jordan led the league in rebounds during the regular season with 15.0 and is tied for the lead with teammate Griffin in the postseason with 13.3. Jordan is also the regular season leader in field goal percentage and is shooting almost 70 percent so far these playoffs. He's also averaged 2.2 blocks per game during the regular season and is swatting 2.8 per game so far this postseason.
He's an absolute load, and while he brings most of the same skills as Chandler did in round one, Jordan does it with considerably more explosion and six fewer years of tread on his tires.
He's also a pick and roll nightmare with either Paul, Rivers or Crawford running the point, and combines with Griffin to run as devastating 4/5 pick and roll as the Rockets do. He was effective enough in game one that Dwight was forced to spend the majority of his time guarding Jordan, allowing Griffin to run amok.
Griffin missed two of the four games against the Rockets this regular season, but played well in the other two, averaging 20.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1 steal while shooting 50 percent from the field. He was also stellar in the opening series against San Antonio, as he averaged 24.1 points, 11.5 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.2 blocks on 47 percent shooting.
He continued his fantastic playoffs and great overall play versus Houston with a triple double in game one, going off for 26 points, 14 rebounds and 13 assists.
The Clipper front court tandem lead L.A. to a game one advantage in both offensive and overall rebounds (9 - 6 and 42 - 35 respectively), and Jordan even stepped up to hit over 50 percent on his free throws, going 6 - 11.
Dwight Howard, Josh Smith, Terrence Jones and Clint Capela will certainly have their hands full going forward with these two, but by utilizing their depth (the Clippers basically only go two deep, with Glen Davis and Spencer Hawes averaging 15 total minutes between them this postseason) to run multiple bodies and various defensive looks at the Clipper bigs, the Rockets can try to avoid this potential pitfall.
3. The Clippers can score and run with the Rockets
The Clippers were the top team in the NBA this season in offensive rating. Yes, they were that good at scoring the ball that even Golden State's vaunted attack finished slightly behind them. And while they weren't quite as good against San Antonio in round one and Chris Paul's health will certainly come into play, this is a team that can score in bunches and do so efficiently, as evidenced by their 117 points and 48 percent shooting from the field in game one, including 41 percent from three.
They were first in the NBA this season in assist-to-turnover ratio, second in overall turnover ratio, second in true shooting percentage and second in effective field goal percentage, which is a stat that adjusts for threes being 1.5 times more valuable than twos. As a comparison, the Rockets vaunted three-ball approach finished seventh in EFG.
This is also a team that, while very effective in the half court pick and roll, also has the ability to run the floor with Houston when needed. They finished Top 10 this season in pace, and are equally as comfortable pushing the ball down the court with their back court speed as they are at setting up the offense.
This is a multi-faceted attack much different than the recently vanquished Dallas squad, and if the Rockets want to leap this final pitfall and head off to the Western Conference finals, they're going to need to play much better defense than they have to this point in the playoffs. Dallas averaged 110 points against them in round one, and you don't need to be a genius to realize that giving up 117 is moving considerably in the wrong direction.
Don't expect the Rockets to come out flat again in game two, but it's going to take more than just better energy to down the Clips. The Rockets need to diversify their defense in the front court, solidify the gaping defensive hole at point guard and counter the Clippers offensive versatility with some of their own.
It's a lot to fix and a lot to ask, but if the Rockets are to advance to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 1997, it's what they'll need to do.