This is one of those huge storyline games. It’s one of the easiest games to write previews for because everyone understands the situation and usually already has their own narrative in mind.
Tonight does not mark Chris Paul’s return to LA and Staples Center (that happened in early January when the Rockets took on the Lakers), but it’s CP3’s first return to Staples to face his former squad, the Los Angeles Clippers.
Most of the headlines and ledes and virtual article space will be devoted to that return. Will the Clippers faithful cheer him or boo him during introductions? Will those reactions affect Chris during the game? Will that reaction be a positive or negative one for the Rockets?
The game also represents the probable return of Luc Richard Mbah a Moute after several weeks on the shelf with a shoulder injury. Tarik Black could also be available after sustaining an eye abrasion and missing the Phoenix game Friday night. There’s also been news that James Harden could return from injury as early as Thursday, but I think I speak for most Rockets fans when I say that Harden needs to be 100% before he returns and that Houston should not rush him back for the sake of having him back. After a sloppy start to the non-Harden stretch, the Rockets are starting to find their way again in the one-superstar system they developed last season.
As for the Los Angeles Clippers, they are on quite the roll. After being decimated by injuries (their injury report on the season puts everyone else’s to shame), they have climbed all the way back to .500, including a recent 4-game winning streak punctuated by a 50-point performance by Lou Williams to beat the Warriors in Oakland. Williams has moved to the starting lineup and is the front-runner for Western Conference Player of the Month halfway through January and has been on an absolute tear even excluding that half-century game. The Rockets had no answer for him in Houston when these teams last met. LRMAM’s return could help, but Sweet Lou is going to get his. Houston will have to slow down the rest of the Clippers.
Blake Griffin is back after missing some time. He’s a load to deal with it in his own right and Houston will have to try to keep him and DeAndre Jordan (likely back after missing a game with a sprained ankle) out of the paint.
The bench mob for the Clippers has been firing on all cylinders as well. Montrezl Harrell and Sam Dekker have continued to improve with the consistent minutes that Houston couldn’t afford to give them last season. Wesley Johnson still gives them an all-around wing presence. Jawun Evans (spits loudly) is also there.
C.J. Williams is day-to-day and Austin Rivers is likely a few days away from being ready to play again.
Tip-off is at 9:30pm CT on TNT