HOUSTON – In many ways, Saturday’s matchup between the Clippers and Houston Rockets pits two teams with situations that mirror each other.

They are both expected to be contenders in the Western Conference. They are both headed by two unquestioned All-Stars. They have head coaches with ties to the Boston Celtics. They have two of the most explosive offenses in the early stages of the season. And for the moment they are both trying to incorporate new pieces and systems.

“I think our team, and Houston is one of those teams, that on paper we’re good now,” Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said at Saturday morning’s shoot-around. “But later we should be really good. We’re going to keep improving.”

The addition of Rivers and his coaching staff, starters J.J. Redick and Jared Dudley, and reconfigured bench unit have forced the Clippers (3-3) to adjust on the fly. For now, what has been effective in practice has not always translated into games.

“We had training camp and everything,” Chris Paul said. “I think everybody knows their roles. We just have to put it together in games. In a practice it’s stop, start, stop, start. In a game you just play.”

The Rockets (4-2) are going through something similar with All-Star Dwight Howard being added. Houston went from a high-octane 3-point shooting team to one with a more dominant post presence.

“It takes some time,” Howard said. “Things don’t just happen overnight. We just have to learn how to play together and play well together. The way [the Rockets] played last year [is different than this year]. With the new additions that we have guys just have to learn how to play with different guys, so it’s an adjustment.”

As the two teams continue making adjustments, they collide Saturday for the second time in a week. The Clippers defeated the Rockets, 137-118, on Monday, scoring an L.A. team-record with 78 points in the first half.

“The Clippers do a good job of getting off to fast starts,” Rockets guard James Harden said. “We came off sluggish and we played right into their hands, turned the ball over and they got out in transition.”

While it was one of the most prolific starts for the Clippers in their 30-year history in Los Angeles, their ability to start quickly was somewhat par for the course. They are one of only three teams in the league averaging at least 30 points in any single quarter, and the only team in the league topping the 30-point mark in the first 12 minutes.

Now, it’s a matter of finding consistency in the remaining three quarters, according to Rivers.

“We’ve been a spurt team so far,” he said. “We’ve played in terrific spurts and then we’ve kind of fallen back. That’s where we have to grow.”



Clippers forward Matt Barnes and Harden have both been nursing injuries of late.

Barnes sat out the past two games with a right thigh contusion and although he said he hoped to play Saturday against the Rockets, Rivers ruled him out. Willie Green may serve as the backup small forward to Jared Dudley.

“You pick and you choose [who to play],” Rivers said. “I’d be willing to use Reggie [Bullock] maybe one game or not. You know how it is. The guy you don’t play everybody wants to see.”

As for Harden, the Rockets guard said after shoot-around that he is being cautious with his injured foot.

“I’ve been doing a lot of ice and treatment on my foot, both of my feet actually,” Harden said. “We’ll see how it goes before the game when we warm up. We’ll see.”

Matt Barnes

Harden has a large bruise on the top of his left foot and he said his right foot has been giving him problems the last two games. He’s also dealt with wrist and back trouble through the first two weeks of the season.

“I just try to go out there and do whatever it takes to help my teammates,” Harden added. “If I can go, I’m going to give it my all, no matter what. Luckily, it’s the beginning of the season. Hopefully, I can get all of these problems resolved quick.”

If Harden is unable to play, Francisco Garcia, Ronnie Brewer, or Jeremy Lin, who has played behind point guard Patrick Beverley the last two games, could start in the backcourt. The Clippers did not face Harden in two of the three games the teams played last season, including a 98-81 loss in Houston on Mar. 30. He’s averaged 11.8 points in 13 career games versus the Clippers, the lowest average against any opponent.