Two teams with two elite rim protecting centers, when both are healthy of course. During the playoffs, Dwight Howard has played 202 minutes over six games – an average of about 33 per game. DeAndre Jordan is averaging just over 35 per game. These two could make this series one of the most interesting of round two by themselves.
Chris Paul is out to start the series, leaving Austin Rivers of all players to carry the point guard duties in his absence. Neither of these teams are bastions of deep team building like the Golden State Warriors or Chicago Bulls, but their starting fives are nothing to be trifled with.
Can either of these starting fives or one of the superstars that hold these teams together single-handedly win this series? Or will we see a surprising bit of team play from the Clippers or Rockets?
Key to the Series
- Get quality minutes out of the starters. Blake Griffin, J.J. Redick, Paul, and Jordan are all averaging more than 35 minutes per in the playoffs, with everyone by Jordan averaging more than 39. Matt Barnes and Jamal Crawford are splitting the remaining “starter” minutes. Every non-starter is averaging less than five points per game except Rivers (6.9) and the odd-man out of the Barnes/Crawford split. The starters need to pull their heavy burden.
- Griffin-ball. With Paul out for at least Game One, hopefully not more, Griffin is going to need to run the offense. Rivers will bring the ball up the court, but Griffin needs to run the offense from the elbows without the mastery of Paul on the court. Griffin is one of the most underrated players in a post-hype sleeper sense because people gave him so much credit early and now people have gotten tired of it. This will be the high-flying forwards team in the early going.
- Protect the Paint. Griffin has developed a nice mid-range shot and Redick is a sharpshooter from three-point land. However, the Clippers, sans Paul, don’t have much threat from shooters and are a much slower paced team. They’re not Memphis level slow and post, but they’re not going blow anyone’s doors off with consistency. Howard will need to play like he did in round one and make the time off he took at the end of the season truly pay off.
- Take Jordan Out. No, I don’t mean anything terrible by this. There is no suggestion of dirty hits here. But, the Rockets love to get to the line and take threes. Both of these offensive outcomes will help take the Clippers paint defender out of the game. If James Harden can get into the paint and draw some sorcerific fouls, it’ll lead to a possible early exit for Jordan. They can also choose to avoid Jordan entirely. Passing the ball around the perimeter and finding open three-point shooters will keep Jordan’s length in the paint and ineffective.
The man that got a trophy tattoo with the Dallas Mavericks prior to winning the title with them is now in position to be a key cog for another contender. Patrick Beverley’s injury created an issue with the starting unit. A cohesive set of players was no without their best guard defender and pseudo point guard. The offensive side of the ball is completely fine without Beverley as Terry can do at least 90% of what Beverley can and has a better shooting stroke. However, defensively, Terry has never been more than passable and is much older now.
If Terry can keep things going and the defense doesn’t fall apart – I’m looking at you Howard – then the Rockets can slow down the elite-offensive Clippers.
I love the way Howard has played in these playoffs and Harden is one of the best offensive creators in the league. Trevor Ariza and Terry offer good shooting off the ball. The Rockets have all the pieces to keep pace with a Paul-led Clippers team, and should be able to take advantage of however long Paul is out.
But, I think the Clippers keep pulling things out despite their lack of depth. It will come to bite them before the playoffs end, but it doesn’t look like it will be against these Rockets…as long as Paul comes back healthy.
Clippers in 7