Rockets-Clippers Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated January 04, 2012
Blake Griffin and Chris Paul are giving the Los Angeles Clippers an impressive one-two scoring punch, but defense has held the key to whether the Clippers win or lose. The Clippers could use another strong defensive performance when they host the Houston Rockets on Wednesday night. Griffin's 26.0 points and 9.8 rebounds per game are both tops on Los Angeles (2-2), while Paul averages a team-high 9.8 assists and his 15.5 points per game rank second to Griffin. While Griffin and Paul have been outstanding on the offensive end, the Clippers' defense has been erratic, allowing an average of 87.0 points in two victories but 114.5 in their two defeats. They played well defensively in Sunday's 93-88 victory over previously winless Portland, collecting a season-high 11 steals while keeping the Trail Blazers under 100 points for the first time this season. "We were all over the place, diving for loose balls, scrapping, getting steals and getting out on the break," Griffin said. "With two not-so-solid defensive games, it's good to come out and play like this." The Clippers may need another staunch defensive effort against Houston (2-3), which averages 97.4 points. However, the Rockets are surrendering 98.8 points per game and allowing the opposition to shoot a league-high 48.3 percent from the field. Paul has enjoyed success against the Rockets, averaging 20.6 points and 10.0 assists in his last 16 meetings - all with New Orleans. The Clippers dropped three of four to the Rockets last season, splitting two meetings at Staples Center as Griffin totaled 44 points and 32 rebounds. Los Angeles, though, has won just three of its last 15 home games against Houston. The Rockets are playing at Staples Center for a second straight night after falling 108-99 to the Lakers on Tuesday. They conclude their three-game road trip at Oklahoma City on Friday, opening a home-and-home set with the Thunder. Coach Kevin McHale is concerned with Houston's defensive play after the Lakers shot 52.6 percent. "We were trying to get our guys to come over and be more aggressive, but we haven't yet gotten to the point where we're trusting everybody on defense to come over," McHale said. "It's still a process." Kyle Lowry enjoyed perhaps his best overall performance of 2011-12 in Tuesday's loss. The point guard came just shy of a triple-double, getting season highs of 22 points and 10 rebounds while adding nine assists. It was a dramatic improvement from his season-low two points and 0-for-6 field-goal shooting effort in Saturday's 95-84 victory over Atlanta, though he did match a career-best with 18 assists in that contest. Kevin Martin looks to bounce back from his 5-for-17 shooting performance - 1 for 8 from 3-point range - against the Lakers. Martin finished with 12 points after averaging 24.3 and shooting 54.2 percent from the floor over his previous three games. Houston may be without swingman Courtney Lee, who left Tuesday's game in the fourth quarter after injuring his calf on a non-contact play. The Clippers, meanwhile, may have Chauncey Billups back after he missed two games with a sore right groin. The 35-year-old point guard is averaging 16.0 points through two games.
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