Clippers-Rockets Preview

The Los Angeles Clippers are getting their second shot at
becoming the first team in franchise history to reach 50 wins.

A meeting with the Houston Rockets could be just what they
need.

The Clippers look to set a team record for victories and move
closer to their first division title by beating the Rockets for the
sixth straight time Saturday night.

Los Angeles (49-24) has already clinched a second straight trip
to the playoffs for the first time since 1991-92 and 92-93, and the
team should get there with two first-time accomplishments.

The Clippers tied the 1974-75 team record for wins in a season
by beating New Orleans 105-91 on Wednesday. They also lead the
Pacific Division by eight games over second-place Golden State,
which holds the head-to-head tiebreaker with nine contests left in
the regular season.

Los Angeles shouldn’t have any trouble claiming the division
crown along with win No. 50, but the team fell short in its first
attempt at the record Friday. The Clippers lost 104-102 at San
Antonio, as Chris Paul missed a potential game-tying 7-footer as
time expired.

“We’ll probably see them down the way (in the playoffs),” said
forward Blake Griffin, who had 18 points and seven rebounds. “We
can learn from this. We’ll see what we did well and we’ll see what
we didn’t do well. Hopefully, we’ll learn from those mistakes.
We’ll just try to take that and make it something positive.”

There’s been plenty of positives against the Rockets (39-33), a
possible first-round playoff opponent.

The Clippers have won five straight meetings while averaging
108.0 points and shooting 40.4 percent from beyond the arc. That
includes hitting 51.5 percent from long range during two wins in
Houston.

They didn’t even have Paul in the most recent visit Jan. 15,
when he was sidelined by a bruised knee while his teammates made 11
of 19 from 3-point range in a 117-109 win.

Having the star point guard for this visit should help since
he’s averaged 21.8 points over his last five meetings with the
Rockets.

Griffin hasn’t been as effective in his four trips to Houston,
averaging 15.0 points and 9.0 rebounds while shooting 37.7 percent
from the field. However, he had 20 points, 11 boards and four
steals in a 106-96 home win Feb. 13.

While the Clippers have clinched a playoff berth, the Rockets
are seventh in the Western Conference, 2 1/2 games ahead of Utah
and the Los Angeles Lakers, who are tied for the eighth and final
playoff position.

Houston, though, hasn’t helped itself, following Wednesday’s
100-91 home loss to Indiana with a 103-92 defeat at Memphis two
days later. The team was allowing an average of 88.7 points while
winning three in a row prior to that.

“We made more mistakes defensively than we have been doing,”
coach Kevin McHale said Friday. “Guys were trying to be aggressive
on a couple of things, and we got really distorted defensively. We
made too many mistakes defensively, especially early.”

James Harden, among the league leaders with 26.0 points per
game, is looking to bounce back from one of his worst performances
of the season. The All-Star guard was held to seven points – his
lowest total in over four months – by the Grizzlies, and his
ineffectiveness also limited him to 26 minutes.

It may not get better against the Clippers since Harden averages
11.6 points over 12 career meetings, missing the most recent with a
sprained right ankle and sore left knee.