THE FACTS: The Los Angeles Clippers just needed to defeat a James Harden-less Houston Rockets squad to set a franchise record for victories in a regular season. Instead, the Clippers will travel home after a four-game road trip wondering how the short-handed Rockets roughed them up so badly.
Chandler Parsons scored 15 points and grabbed nine rebounds to lead five Rockets in double figures as Houston snapped a five-game losing streak against L.A. with a 98-81 triumph on Saturday at Toyota Center. Jeremy Lin finished with 15 points, while Omer Asik (13 points, 12 rebounds) recorded his 30th double-double of the season for the Rockets (40-33), who ended a two-game skid and won for the 12th time in their last 15 home tilts despite Harden's absence because of a sore right foot.
Chris Paul paced L.A. (49-25), which has lost three of its last four games overall and five of six away from home, with 19 points, seven assists and five boards. Jamal Crawford added 15 points, and Blake Griffin netted 12 points and snatched three rebounds for the Clippers, whose magic number to clinch their first Pacific Division title in team history will remain at two unless the Golden State Warriors lose to the Portland Trail Blazers later Saturday.
QUOTABLE: "Everybody chipped in [with Harden unavailable]. You look at it across the board, and there was no one who really did anything spectacular. It was just everybody doing their role and their job."
THE STAT: The Clippers struggled to generate good looks at the basket all evening, but they managed to overcome this problem early in the game by draining five of six 3-point attempts. Those long-range shots did not continue to fall for L.A., however, as it shot 2-for-16 (12.5 percent) from beyond the arc over the final three quarters.
TURNING POINT: The Rockets extended a 55-50 halftime advantage to 77-59 with 3:14 left in the third quarter behind stingy defense, limiting the Clippers to 4-for-14 shooting and forcing three turnovers during this stretch. Houston put an exclamation point on the 18-9 spurt by drawing two charges on All-Stars Griffin and Paul. The Clippers, playing their fourth game in the last five nights, simply lacked the energy needed to recover and never moved back within striking distance.
QUOTABLE II: "We played right into their hands. We didn't attack the basket. We shot a lot of jump shots. Their post guys got what they wanted. Their guards got what they wanted. Their pick game got what they wanted. There's nothing we can't do out there, but the lack of toughness and concentration and determination and spirit was very disappointing tonight. "
-- L.A. coach Vinny Del Negro
HOT: Houston's Francisco Garcia, who did not play in four of the Rockets' previous five games, took advantage of the opening in the rotation in the second quarter. The 6-foot-7 veteran poured in a team-high 13 points on 4-for-5 shooting during that 12-minute stretch.
QUOTABLE III: "Cisco came in and gave us a huge lift in the second quarter."
-- Houston coach Kevin McHale
NOT: Clippers forward Caron Butler failed to shake his shooting slump, misfiring on eight of 10 shot attempts. Including Saturday's miserable effort, Butler has shot a dismal 33.3 percent (17-for-51) from the field over his last five games.
GOOD MOVE: The Rockets played with poise without their superstar, displaying patience offensively and tenacity on the defensive end. Houston's unselfish ball movement did not produce a high assist total, but it turned solid looks into great ones. This approach was exactly what the Rockets needed against a playoff-bound opponent with Harden sitting on the bench in a sports jacket.
BAD MOVE: The Clippers allowed the emotions involved in a disappointing first-half performance to get the better of them on two occasions. Griffin lost his cool after he was whistled for an obvious clear-path foul midway through the second period and picked up a technical foul. Crawford also received an unnecessary tech when he aimed his frustration at the officials during a timeout with 2:35 remaining before halftime.
NOTABLE: Houston played without leading scorer Harden (sore right foot), whose status moving forward is unknown at this point. "He's kind of had that thing for a while," McHale said. "He had a shot in [his foot] a few weeks ago and kind of played through it. It's just one of those things. Hopefully he gets better soon. Needless to say, we need him." ... The Rockets' Greg Smith made his first career start at power forward instead of rookie Donatas Motiejunas, who was relegated to a reserve role for his ineffective performance early in games. "D-Mo's got two fouls before he breaks a sweat," McHale said. "I figured we'd try to see if someone else can get out there and not get two fouls in the first two minutes of the game." ... Clippers guard Chauncey Billups (right groin strain) sat out for the fifth time in the last six games. Griffin, meanwhile, played through a strained left calf, which Del Negro described as "very swollen." Del Negro did not sound optimistic about Billups' chances of playing in Monday's matchup with the Indiana Pacers. ... Clippers forward Matt Barnes left the game in the fourth quarter after spraining his left ankle. His status moving forward is unknown at the moment. ... Houston won on the second night of a back-to-back set for the first time in six attempts to improve to 6-13 this season on the tail end of a back-to-back. ... The Rockets improved to 25-6 when they limit their opponent to less than 102 points. ... Houston set a season low for points allowed in the second half, limiting L.A. to only 31 points. ... The Clippers fell to 38-4 this season when leading after one quarter.
UP NEXT: For the Clippers: Monday vs. Indiana, Wednesday vs. Phoenix, April 7 vs. L.A. Lakers. For the Rockets: Monday vs. Orlando, Wednesday @ Sacramento, Friday @ Portland.