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Rockets practice report: Team prepares for high-intensity vs. Clippers on Thursday

Head coach Mike D’Antoni shares his thoughts on the Western Conference showdown between the Rockets and Clippers, as well as Robert Covington’s impact on the team. 

Memphis Grizzlies v Houston Rockets Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

Fresh off what is considered one of their most disappointing performances of the season, the Houston Rockets returned to practice on Wednesday, following a 125-123 loss to the New York Knicks on Monday.

With the Clippers (42-19) coming into the Toyota Center on a five-game win streak, the Rockets are currently sitting three games behind their Western Conference counterpart for the No. 2 seed — setting up a must-win situation ahead of their showdown against Los Angeles on Thursday. Similar to each of the previous three meetings, Mike D’Antoni is expecting a high-intensity playoff-style game, as the Rockets lead the regular-season series up 2-1 over the Clippers.

“It’s going to be a great game with a lot of implications. We are getting down to the time of the season where each game counts, and it should be a high-intensity kind of game — it’s great. This game is going to come down to whoever plays well that night, and who can impose their will better than the opposition.” — D’Antoni

Imposing their will on the opposition is something the Rockets have been successful with over the past month. Since fully committing to small-ball, Houston’s opponents have been forced to step outside of their comfort zone and play smaller — in hopes of matching the Rockets’ on-court insanity.

Although it has worked to Houston’s advantage, the Clippers are one of a few teams who can match the Rockets’ micro-ball style of play.

“They [the Clippers] are a good team, and they can combat every kind of lineup because they’re that good. They have some great players and are able to go at you one-on-one, where we have more or less of the same thing. It’s going to be a great competition and that’s what it is all about.” — D’Antoni

Since losing to the Rockets during the last meeting on Dec. 19, the Clippers have deepened their depth with the additions of Marcus Morris and Reggie Jackson. Although both players have made their mark in Los Angeles, neither has made a bigger impact with their new team than Robert Covington.

Through 10 games since coming over via trade in February, it has been a smooth transition for the 6-foot-7 forward. While helping the Rockets to a 7-3 record since his arrival, Covington has averaged 13.4 points on 41.6% shooting from the field, 36.4% from behind the arc, to go along with 8.4 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game.

Despite falling short to the Knicks inside Madison Square Garden, Covington continued to proved he was worth the trade, recording 20 points, 13 rebounds, two steals and a block in the loss. His defensive effort came up huge in the overtime win over the Boston Celtics on Saturday, when he registered 16 rebounds and three blocks — establishing himself as Houston’s defensive anchor.

“My teammates have made me comfortable and I am very familiar with this system. The way we are playing, I am taking more pursue off Russell [Westbrook] and James [Harden], and I am willing to do the little things to make it as easy as possible.” — Covington

The early return on Covington’s fit within the organization was never a question as a versatile 3-and-D player, but his ability to defend at such a high level has exceeded all expectations through his first full month as a Rocket.

“He [Covington] is always coming up with a big block or a steal and he has been extremely great for us. Having him and knowing the importance of what he has done, it’s been good, to say the least.” — D’Antoni

With hopes of improving their post-season standings with 22 games remaining, the Rockets will look to bounce back after a humiliating loss in the Big Apple, Thursday against the Clippers. Tip-off is slated for 7:00 P.M. CT.