The Houston Rockets are very close to assuring themselves of hosting a first-round series, but what they really want is end up as the No. 2 or No. 3 seed in the Western Conference. After Golden State hammered Denver last night, the Warriors are in line for the No. 1 seed, and everyone wants to avoid them for as long as possible. They will have a tough test when they face the Los Angeles Clippers tonight though. The Clippers have been one of the hottest teams in the league.
Gerald Green is the only player on Houston in line to miss this game. He missed yesterday’s road tilt with the Sacramento Kings due to a groin injury, and he hasn’t played since March 22.
The Clippers haven’t had Luc Mbah a Moute for most of the season, and the forward has essentially been shut down. Their bigger concern is Patrick Beverley. Beverley is one of the most physical players in the league, and he would love to take on his former team. However, he is considered questionable to play with a hip issue.
We have already seen a considerable amount of line movement in this game. The Clippers opened as a 1.5-point favorite, but the line has since flipped. Houston is now a one-point road favorite, as the Rockets look to finish second or third in the West. The total in this game has been set at 229.
What’s at Stake?
LA is very likely to finish as the No. 5 or No. 6 seed out West, and that would likely mean a first round series with either Portland or Houston. The Clip Show is 1-3 against Portland this season, but they are 2-0 against Houston so they may want to face the Rockets even though most see them as a tougher opponent.
As I said up top, Houston wants to finish No. 2 or No. 3. Portland is just a half-game behind Houston with four to play, so the Rockets want to avoid being caught by the Blazers.
This stands to be a tough spot for the Rockets. They went on the road to take on Sacramento last night and are playing the second part of a back-to-back tonight. However, the good news is if they get through this one, they will be double-digit favorites against both the Knicks and Suns at home over the weekend.
The Clippers have won 13 of their last 15 games coming into tonight. That’s an awfully impressive run, but they haven’t quite played the cream of the crop. Nine of those wins came against teams that will miss the playoffs. They are well-rested though having not played since Sunday.
LA has won the two previous meetings, but these teams haven’t faced each other since October. At that point, Tobias Harris was still on the Clippers, and Carmelo Anthony finished the night as Houston’s leading scorer.
James Harden has been phenomenal since the All-Star Break. Harden has made a serious run to be named league MVP over Giannis Antetokuonmpo, and his scoring numbers are off the charts. He is averaging 36.4 PPG, 7.6 APG, and 6.5 RPG, and he can go off for a triple-double. His defense is still suspect, but it has greatly improved over the last two years and the Clippers have to try to stop him somehow.
The Clippers are much more diverse in their scoring. Lou Williams has been the team’s top scorer since Tobias Harris left, but Danilo Gallinari and Montrezl Harrell have played big roles too. Gallinari is the team’s three-point shooting specialist, and Harrell is already one of the better low-post defenders in the league and is working more on his scoring. They don’t have a lot of talent, but Doc Rivers has done a masterful job of getting the best out of this team. Midseason additions like Landry Shamet and Ivica Zubac have been great too, with Shamet a great complementary three-point shooter and Zubac proficient at getting offensive boards.
I really like the Clippers as a home underdog in this spot. Houston is a team that shoots a ton of threes, and they tied the NBA record for threes in a game after sinking 26 against Sacramento on Tuesday night. The Clip Show has the best three-point defense in the league though, and Houston is playing on tired legs. This is a great value play.