HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Back and Forth With Bones is an e-mail exchange between NBA.com’s John Schuhmann and NBA TV’s Brent Barry during a Monday night game. This week, they sat down (Schuhmann at home in New Jersey with his leftover Halloween candy, Barry in the studio in Atlanta with Matt Winer and Dennis Scott) to watch the big Western Conference matchup between the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Clippers.
Schuhmann: Hey Bones, we got Rockets-Clippers tonight. Here are some early numbers…
The Clippers lead the league in offensive efficiency and rank last in defensive efficiency. Chalk it up to small sample size (one game against Steph Curry and another against the carefree Lakers), but they’ve allowed their opponents to shoot 48 percent from 3-point range (29th) after ranking 26th in 3-point defense last season. And of course, they have three games against two of the most dangerous 3-point shooting teams in the league – Houston and Miami – this week.
The Rockets, meanwhile, are the only team in the top 5 in both offensive and defensive efficiency thus far. They’re a minus-1 in 34 minutes with both Omer Asik and Dwight Howard on the floor together, great defensively, but bad offensively. With only one of the two on the floor (and with Francisco Garcia shooting 10-for-20 on threes off the bench), they’ve been terrific on both ends. And obviously, it’s a long-term question if they’re better off keeping Asik or shopping him for someone who better complements Howard and James Harden.
What will you be watching for tonight?
Barry: I’m interested to see how Doc Rivers uses Blake Griffin while Houston plays big. Tough for them to cover stretch fours, but Blake is not that. So let’s see if he uses quick moves or takes comfy Js.
Clips bigs must stay out of foul trouble or else Mullens might get some run to stretch the lineup.
I’m not sure how Harden gets defended, but I would hope guards press up a bit since they are not good at the line. It’s a bad matchup for the Clips if they think they can outscore them.
Schuhmann: Griffin is 1-for-9 from outside the paint through the first three games, so yeah, he’s not going to make Dwight think twice about hanging out in the paint.
The Clippers shot 16-for-23 in the opening 12 minutes, scoring 42 points on 27 possessions. J.J. Redick led the way with 15 and Jared Dudley found himself wide open beyond the arc as well. Even Blake Griffin got in the act, hitting a pair of jumpers. Dwight Howard, meanwhile, picked up two fouls by the 6:24 mark and had to sit. He returned late in the period, but then picked up his third less than a minute later. The Rockets’ offense found a rhythm with just one big on the floor, but a hole had already been dug.
Schuhmann: J.J. Redick is hunting shots early and making Harden work on D. Clips have scored 15 points on 10 possessions.
Barry: Fouls and hot start forces Chandler Parsons switch.
Barry: Houston, coming off the Utah game, does not look to be nervous about being down but this is NOT the Jazz and this point guard does not like to lose.
Classic foul trouble disrupts rhythm.
2nd quarter (LAC leads, 42-25)
The Rockets’ cut the Clippers lead from 17 to six by scoring 22 points on their first 10 possessions of the quarter, with their third center – Greg Smith – scoring eight of the 22. The Clippers steadied themselves when their starters returned and led by 12 at the half.
Schuhmann: Last year’s LAC second-unit gave them great D with Eric Bledsoe, Matt Barnes, Lamar Odom & Ronny Turiaf, and Jamal Crawford scored enough to build on leads. This is one of my big questions with them this year.
Barry: Agreed. Much different complexion of the bench and Barnes takes a ton of chances on D that hurt their schemes.
Barry: Barnes not healthy either, aggravated injury there. Starters prepped for pace but 2nd unit not up to speed.
Schuhmann: CP with 10 dimes in 12 minutes and I can’t say that he’s had to work hard for them. They can come easy with so many weapons who are willing to run the floor and move without the ball.
Barry: Both J.J. and Jared taking practice shots.
Halftime (LAC leads, 78-66)
Schuhmann: That was a ridiculously fast pace. 56 possessions each in the first half. I would think that Houston would be the team that would prefer to slow it down, to get Dwight involved both offensively and defensively.
Barry: Doc said he wants pace before the game, interestingly enough.
With the Rockets going back to their twin-tower lineup to start the third, the pace slowed. They got Howard into the game offensively, but were unable to cut into the lead.
Schuhmann: As much as I love the Rockets’ pick-and-roll, the Clips bigs are pretty poor defensively in the post. DeAndre Jordan offering no resistance to Howard there.
Barry: And I don’t like, other than CP3, who they have come to double down.
Barry: No big lineup for the Clips. Mullens doesn’t count.
4th quarter (LAC leads, 104-89)
Scoring on their first five possessions of the period, the Rockets cut the deficit to nine and had the ball back. But Garcia missed a three and Jordan took a nice feed from Jamal Crawford to push the lead back to double-digits. Paul then took over – 10 points and three assists in 3 1/2 minutes – and the Clippers put the game away.
Schuhmann: Harden has 15 & 5, but has been pretty terrible tonight, especially defensively.
Barry: Pretty much mentally out of it. Clips with no control of pace without Paul has hurt them tonight.
Schuhmann: Downside to Dwight post-ups: As much as he’s killing them down there, it’s too easy to just foul him.
Barry: Clips’ D not very disciplined yet. Rotations and awareness not together.
Schuhmann: Yep, just takes a ball reversal to give Omri Casspi a lane to the basket.
Final: Clippers 137, Rockets 118
Barry: When Clips reach a point in the year when it looks easy for the collective unit to operate, they will have arrived. They are good but can be really good if they stay the course and find it.
Schuhmann: Yes, and they can’t just rely on their offensive firepower to get them through the season. I think that’s what the Knicks’ problem was last year. They were too good offensively for their own good.
I don’t know that Jordan/Griffin will ever be a reliable defensive frontline and I do know the Clips aren’t getting any D from their bench. Still, their offense is a thing of beauty. Looks like Paul/Griffin side pick-and-roll with Redick or Crawford coming off a pindown on the weak side is their go-to play.
Thoughts on Houston after tonight? Tough to evaluate when they get a stinker from Harden, but his defense probably isn’t going to get better.
Rockets pace & efficiency through Monday
|Asik + Howard
|One of the two
Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
Barry: You have to wonder what Asik can get you in the market (D-oriented stretch 4) if they feel they can play without a back-up. But they are a dangerous team that can keep pressure on you at any point in the game. Issue is if you don’t get intimidated, you can get back at them too.
If you have the “best” 2 and the “best” 5 you should be a home-court qualifying team for the playoffs.
Plus, no Patrick Beverley tonight. That adds something to their point pressure.