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.