NBA fans seem to love close, high-scoring games, and they will receive just that tonight. The Lob City Los Angeles Clippers take on the Houston Rockets at the Toyota Center in a matchup of two of the NBA's best young teams. Both like to play the run-and-gun game, so the stage is set for a thriller.
The Clippers have picked up right where they left off last year, only better. Star point guard Chris Paul has the team contending for a championship, and all of the players have come together under that common goal nicely.
Los Angeles has won four of its last five, and that type of momentum will be important coming into Houston. The Rockets have lost three straight, but have gone 14-6 at home. Similarly, the Clippers have gone 11-5 on the road, so a home victory for Houston is anything but guaranteed.
Adding to this game's drama is that two of the league's best offenses are facing off. Houston ranks first in points scored with 105.4 points per game, and the Clippers rank seventh with 101.7.
Though both teams play the run-and-gun offense, their respective styles could not be more different. As a result, this one is set to be a real barnburner.
Time: Tuesday, January 15th, 8:00 p.m. EST
TV: CSN Houston, Prime Ticket
Records: Los Angeles Clippers (29-9) vs. Houston Rockets (21-17)
Betting Line: Los Angeles (+2.5), Houston (-2.5) via Bovada
Injuries: Jeremy Lin (ankle, day-to-day), Chris Paul (knee, day-to-day), Trey Thompkins (knee, out), Chauncey Billups (foot, out)
Key Storyline: Whose Offense Shall Reign Supreme?
As was previously mentioned, the Clippers and Rockets both have strong offenses. However, though both play a fast-paced game, the two teams are actually quite different.
Under head coach Kevin McHale, Houston runs something of a modified pick-and-roll game. Jeremy Lin acts as the floor general and has turned Omer Asik into a respectable center, but 2-guard James Harden is the chief playmaker and scorer. Yes, it is a run-and-gun game, but it also has its fair share of isolation.
The Clippers' approach is far different from this. Thanks to a combination of shooters, passers and dunkers, the team runs up and down the court either shooting the lights out or lobbing the ball up for someone else to slam home. It is incredibly fun to watch and helped give birth to the nickname "Lob City."
What also separates the Clippers from the Rockets is their commitment to defense. Los Angeles ranks fourth in points allowed, letting the opposition score just 92.8 points per game.
Compare that to Houston, who ranks 28th in the same category with 103.3, and it's clear that the Rockets will have a tough time tonight. Great home record or no, it takes a special kind of defense to slow down Lob City. Whether or not the Rockets have it remains to be seen.
Key Matchup: DeAndre Jordan vs. Omer Asik
The key to the Rockets protecting their home court will be their defensive effort, and that means a good game from Omer Asik. Despite being a career backup up until this season, Houston signed the Turkish seven-footer to a three-year, $25.3 million deal.
Asik has since become a respectable center. He is averaging 10.4 points per game and ranks third in the league with 11.1 rebounds per contest. He is still young at 26 and still has a lot to learn about being a reliable starting center, but his overall future is bright.
Just how much of a future he has could be determined by how well he handles the dominant DeAndre Jordan, who despite being an inch shorter than Asik at 6'11" is 265 pounds of brute force. Jordan is only averaging 9.3 points and 7.1 rebounds on the season, but is a far more dominant defender than Asik.
The former Texas A&M Aggie has also posted 1.6 blocks per game this season, and has proved to be an excellent low-post presence who can also rise above the rim as necessary. If Jordan does find his way up top for an alley-oop, fans must prepare for the ensuing earthquake that may follow. His dunks are THAT intense.
The battle here is simple. Everything that Jordan does, Asik has to try and do better. How much he succeeds in doing so remains to be seen, but he at least needs to maintain pace with the Clippers' big man in order for Houston to even have a chance.
Similarly, Jordan needs to force Asik out of his comfort zone. This means making him play the low-post and pressuring him offensively. Despite Asik's respectable scoring numbers, it's painfully clear that he is far more comfortable playing defense. If Jordan can force him to have a horrifically bad game on the other end of the floor, turning his mistakes into turnovers, then the Clippers give themselves a great advantage in spite of Houston's dominance at home.
X-Factor: Chandler Parsons
Chandler Parsons has been excellent for the Rockets this season, both as a scorer and a team leader. He has averaged 14.4 points and 6.2 rebounds, and has proven that he can make shots from basically anywhere on the court. The former Florida Gator has shot 46 percent from the field and 35 percent from long range, and has a knack for sinking clutch shots.
It is important that Parsons have an effective game tonight. He does not need to shoot the lights out and score the same amount of points as teammate James Harden, but he definitely must take full advantage of his offensive situation.
This is because Parsons, the Rockets' small forward, is likely going to be guarded by Caron Butler. Nothing against the man, but he is the weakest defender out of the Clippers' five starters. His best skill is his three-point shooting, and that serves little purpose when playing defense.
Parsons needs to use this matchup to his advantage and just be a force for Houston tonight. He must shoot threes, utilize his mid-range game and not hesitate to drive the lane. He only averages just over two free throws per game and must increase that number against the tough Clippers.
All in all, Parsons has to make himself available on offense tonight. He must demand the ball and not just wait while open to receive it. By being vocal on the court and establishing himself as a go-to scorer, he will only help his team obtain another win at home.
The Rockets and Clippers have not yet faced off this season, but it's clear that this is going to be a high-scoring game. Both teams rely on a fast-paced approach to win them games, and whichever squad has the more effective shooting night will win.
This time, it's going to be the Clippers.
Yes, the Rockets have proved to be an excellent home team, but the Clippers are out for blood this year. They are fully motivated by performing well last season, and will stop at nothing to win it all in 2013.
Who will win?
This means that both Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan will rise above the rim for some excellent throwdowns tonight. On defense, Jordan will show Asik just what it takes to be an elite big man, forcing him out of his comfort zone possession after possession en route to an excellent night in the rebounding and shot-blocking department.
Chandler Parsons and his clutch threes will help keep the Rockets in the game, but he is only one man. The entire team will have to be focused in order to shut down the Clippers, who have already proved that they can win without Chris Paul in defeating the dangerous Memphis Grizzlies on January 14.
Given that the Grizzlies are a far better team than Houston, expect the Clippers to put in an even greater effort in tonight's high-scoring contest.
Los Angeles Clippers 113, Houston Rockets 108
All statistics are accurate as of Monday, January 13, 2013