The Los Angeles Clippers got a split of the first two games of their Western Conference semifinal series against the Houston Rockets, but they still don’t know if Chris Paul is going to be able to join them for Game 3. Even so, they’re the smart choice for your NBA picks here.
The Houston Rockets Can Win Because…
Their skill set can match up with the Clippers as long as Paul remains out. There was a basic line of thought that since the Clippers won Game 1, Los Angeles could afford to sit out Paul for Game 2, with the obvious intention being that the Clippers would then play Paul in Game 3. However, that might not happen and you should keep this mind when looking at the NBA odds. Rivers was not confident that Paul would be able to take the floor on Friday, suggesting that a return to the series won’t happen until Game 5, or until the Clippers fall behind in this series (should they lose Game 3). That’s really bad news for the Clippers, because they know they lose so much with Paul not on the floor. Austin Rivers and Jamal Crawford have not been terrible by any stretch in the first two games of the series, but they aren’t Paul. Crawford was just 6 of 22 in Game 2. He is not a consistent shooter and rare has been in his prolonged professional career. Rivers didn’t commit many turnovers in Game 2, but he dished out only two assists, and that’s not enough ball movement for the Clippers’ offense, which clearly stagnated in the second half after a 41-point second quarter gave them a nine-point halftime advantage.
Houston very clearly focused on containing Blake Griffin down the stretch, after he played a brilliant first half. The Rockets dared the Clippers to get the ball to other players, and Los Angeles was not up to the task. Griffin scored 34 points, but only one other player – Crawford – was able to score more than 16. Since Crawford was so inefficient, that’s a big concern for Los Angeles moving forward. As long as Los Angeles can’t shoot the three (6 of 25 in Game 2), Houston’s going to have a leg up in this series. Paul gets J.J. Redick and other players some quality shots, but if he’s not on the court, the Rockets can take away the Clippers’ offense.
The Los Angeles Clippers Can Win Because…
They have to think that Houston won’t get 64 free throw attempts, which is what happened in Game 2. When you see one team get 32 more free throws than another, the following game is often (though not always) a game in which the other team gets a much more favorable whistle. Houston outscored Los Angeles by 17 points, 42-25, at the free throw line, winning by six, 115-109. If these teams are even in free throw points in Game 3, the Clippers should gain a considerable advantage.
The other thing to look at here is that the Clippers have played the Rockets on even terms without Chris Paul. Being able to play at home should enable Los Angeles’ role players to be even better than they were in the first two games of the series in Houston. The Rockets trailed heading into the fourth quarter of Game 2. Los Angeles should still feel good about where it is in this series.
If Paul doesn’t play, Houston does gain a much better chance of winning. However, the Clippers were toughened and made into a much better team by surviving San Antonio in seven games. That series gave the Clippers a new toughness we’re seeing in this series.
Houston barely won Game 2 and they had a +32 edge at the free throw line. Their defense has been deplorable and that’s without Paul on the floor. If he’s healthy, the Clippers roll. Even if he’s not playing, the Clippers have shown they can dominate the Rockets without him, so take the Clippers with your NBA picks here.
NBA Pick: Clippers at GT Bets