Rockets-Clippers showdown includes Harden this time
LOS ANGELES -- The rematch has lost a bit of its luster, yet the Houston Rockets' game with the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday should still provide plenty of added intensity.
Blake Griffin won't be on the court for this one, like he was Jan. 15 in Los Angeles when the teams butted heads previously. The Clippers won that game 115-102, but the battle was far from finished when the final buzzer sounded.
On-court clashes spilled into the locker room area and multiple Rockets players reportedly tried to breach the Clippers' inner sanctum. The crux of the intensity appeared to be Chris Paul's return to face a Clippers franchise that he had called his own for six seasons.
Griffin has since been traded to the Detroit Pistons, but Paul will still be facing his former team and coach Doc Rivers. And Houston's Trevor Ariza will see plenty of time on the court where he was last seen arguing with injured Clippers guard Austin Rivers, who is back in action again.
Also on the court this time? The Rockets' James Harden. The NBA's leading scorer at 31.4 points per game missed the last matchup with a hamstring injury.
Yet it is not all about the side drama. This one will also have the NBA's hottest team facing one in a fight to get back into playoff eligibility.
The Rockets (47-13) are blazing hot on their current 13-game winning streak, the latest victory coming Monday at Utah. The Western Conference's top team has also won 17 of its last 18.
Houston, which leads Golden State by one-half game for the NBA's best record, also won 14 consecutive during one stretch in November and December.
"You know, realistically, we've got a shot to try to finish first so why wouldn't we?" Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni told the Houston Chronicle. "And the chemistry's really good. There's a lot of reasons they're trying to do the best that they can do. Basically, just great professionals and good guys."
The Clippers (32-27) head into the final six weeks of the season thinking that 14 victories in their final 23 regular-season games could be enough to push them into the playoffs. After their spirited 122-120 victory at Denver on Tuesday, they moved passed the Nuggets into the eighth spot in the conference.
The Clippers insisted beforehand that they were not looking ahead to Houston on Wednesday.
"A lot of people are talking about the Rockets game, but they're at the top of the West," Austin Rivers told the Los Angeles Times. "We're not going to catch the Rockets. We're trying to catch the Nuggets, the Pelicans. These are teams that we are really trying to fight for and beat. So, this is a big game for us."
The Clippers were without two starters at Denver in forward Danilo Gallinari (bruised hand) and guard Avery Bradley (groin). Guard Jawun Evans is also out indefinitely with an abdomen injury. Lou Williams played at Denver despite feeling under the weather and scored a team-high 25 points.
The Rockets are expected to be without forward/center Brandon Wright (knee) and forward Ryan Anderson (hip) on Wednesday. Center Clint Capela (illness) is questionable, while guard Eric Gordon (illness) is day-to-day.
Updated February 28, 2018