The last game of the day will put the Houston Rockets, possibly coming into the Staples Center without their best player, with the Los Angeles Clippers, who only recently got back theirs.
James Harden took a bad tumble (stepping on David Lee’s foot) in the Rockets’ 116-107 win against the Golden State Warriors, and despite finishing the game with 27 points, it’s uncertain if he’ll play for the Rockets in the game. Harden has been the team’s leading scorer and much more than that frankly, averaging 26.1 points per game and being the main reason the Rockets (29-25) are in the playoff picture.
He missed only one game this season – a 134-126 loss to the San Antonio Spurs, which was also Jeremy Lin’s best game of the season, scoring 38 points getting all the attention and the focus in the back court. Still, the Rockets aren’t better off with just Lin taking care of the ball. He might be a better passer than Harden, but he doesn’t have the ability to energize the team behind him or create plays out of nothing while drawing double teams like Harden does.
For the Clippers, despite some success without Chris Paul, it’s pretty much the same story. Great team with Paul, OK or less without him. Paul returned after missing 12 of 14 games a few days ago, and his presence was immediately felt. The Clippers won in Philadelphia and New York in double digits, with Paul scoring a total of 46 points in only 54 minutes of basketball.
In the previous meeting this season between the two teams (in Houston), the Clippers won 117-109 (January 15), while Paul wasn’t even playing. James Harden and Jeremy Lin combined for 13-31 from the field on that day, in a game that was about making the most off turnovers. The Clippers force more turnovers than any other team in the NBA, and their ability to press and keep a certain level of intensity during long stretches, especially in the home games (20-5 at Staples Center) has been too much for most teams visiting in LA.
Prediction – Even with James Harden, the Clippers are a better team, not relying on the scoring ability of just one player. There is the game against the Lakers to think about, coming 24 hours later, but it doesn’t involve travel, and with a much better bench and deeper team, the Clippers should be too much for their visitors on the day.