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Houston Rockets vs. Los Angeles Clippers game preview

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NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Los Angeles Clippers Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

You don’t need me to tell you that this is a big one.

Obviously, it’s big for the standings. Houston is 2.5 games ahead of the Clippers for the 3 seed and 2.5 games back of San Antonio for the 2 seed. And of course for tiebreakers this is a big one.

Like earlier in the year with their matchup(s) with the Mavericks, Houston has been handed a gift tonight. First off, the game is in Houston and allows the Rockets to set the tone for the season series. But more importantly, the Clippers will be missing Blake Griffin. They played a few games without Chris Paul and J.J. Redick recently due to hamstring injuries. CP3 came back against the Pelicans so he’s certain to play. Redick will probably come back for this game because players always come back in time/early to play Houston (see: every injured player ever).

UPDATE: Chris Paul is out tonight, J.J. Redick is probable.

Besides the recent history between these two teams, there’s two teams also share a relationship with Sam Cassell, who was an integral part of Houston’s two NBA championships and is now an assistant coach under Doc Rivers. He will be the Rockets legend honored tonight as the team continues to honor a member of the organization at every home game this season.

I was a kid during the two titles. Everyone knew Hakeem Olajuwon was the best. And guys like Robert Horry, Mario Elie, and Clyde Drexler (for the second title) were appreciated for what they brought to the table. But Sam Cassell was my favorite non-Hakeem player. I loved his tenacity. I loved the fearlessness. In terms of attitude, he’s easy to compare to Patrick Beverley. Basketball-wise their games are/were fundamentally quite different. However, both were fiery engines for the team.

Here’s one of my favorite Cassell videos, courtesy of Youtube.

And since I’m bored, let’s live-blog this video!

0:16: Olajuwon and Ewing were clearly the “centers of attention.” I see what you did there, NBA TV employee whose name I don’t know.

0:27: Cassell was played sparingly that year in Houston. Less than 7 points a game in 17 minutes sounds pretty low, until you remember that he was a rookie playing for a contender!

0:44: 24-year-old rookie? What is this, the 90s? Oh wait, yeah it is.

0:52: As fake Busta Rhymes mentions, New York was where titles happen. You didn’t get them in Houston. No Houston franchise had ever won a title. Even the University of Houston didn’t have any. Two days after Game 3 of this series, the New York Rangers of the NHL would win the Stanley Cup.

0:59: Some context here: the Rockets had home court advantage in this series, but had lost Game 2 on their home floor. Until recently, the NBA Finals worked as a 2-3-2 series. So, New York knew they could win all 3 games at home and walk out champions. Houston needed a win, and historically the first game was usually the best chance to steal a win back.

1:09: Otis Thorpe in the captain’s meeting like a boss.

1:21: All of my dance moves look like whatever that guy is doing.

1:38: Robert Horry gets a lot of credit for his clutch shots, and rightfully so. But the dude was an athletic freak. In his second year in the NBA, he played primarily at the small forward position. Just a year later, he remade himself as a small power forward when that wasn’t really done at the time. The man belongs in the Hall of Fame. Also, this dunk is awesome.

1:49: Our first glimpse of Cassell, egging his team to keep up the defense in a timeout huddle.

2:08: Pat Riley looks the same today as he did 22 years ago. Give the man some Rogaine and it will be like he borrowed Tim Duncan’s time machine.

2:12: Rudy T: “This is where you demoralize them.” What a fucking champ.

2:29: The Knicks used their defense, aka “Guys you don’t wanna mess with.” Charles Oakley, Derek Harper, and John Starks wouldn’t back down from a fight. Or a cheeseburger, if we’re talking about Starks’ life after basketball.

2:45: Carl Herrera with a fadeaway jumper over Ewing? I could have told you how that play would pan out.

2:50: Remember, hand checking was legal, so Harper putting both forearms into Kenny Smith was “legal.”

3:40: Cue the part where our heroes are down. They’ve blown a lead. The crowd is against them. CAN ANYONE SAVE THEM?

3:55: AND HIS NAME IS JOHN CENA SAM CASSELL!

4:00: Gene Peterson and Jim Foley were the best.

4:06: “That is their first field goal in 10-and-a-half minutes.” Marv Albert is either calling this game or either of the OKC games from this season. Can’t be sure. But it proves: the more things change, the more they stay the same.

4:32: The “We need a hero” face from Rudy T.

4:40: The cajones of a champion. He had them as a rookie. Awesome.

Anyway, back to the Clippers. It’s a big game. Rockets need to win, and should win on their home court. They’ll have no answer for DeAndre Jordan (of Episcopal High School in Houston). Chris Paul will get his. J.J. Redick kills Houston no matter what. And Jamal Crawford will bank in a bullshit late shot clock three pointer.

But Houston has to find a way.

Tip-off is at 7pm CT.