HOUSTON – Little time remains for the euphoria to last from beating the defending champions.
Now, after winning a seven-game series on a game-winning shot Saturday night, the Clippers’ focus turns to a well-rested Rockets group that hasn’t played since April 28, as the second round begins Monday in Houston.
“Somehow in the next 48 hours, I’ve got to get us focused on Houston,” head coach Doc Rivers said immediately after the Game 7 win. “They’ve been sitting around waiting on us, and that’s going to be a brutal task. But we have to get there somehow.”
Rivers knows the Rockets are in a good place as well, despite the vast difference in the way both teams enter Round 2. The Clippers knocked off the champs in seven games, while the Rockets took care of the Mavericks in five.
“They have some momentum and rest, but this has to make us feel, like just the grind of the series, it has to make you feel better,” Rivers said. “I don’t know how, but it has to when you go through something like this.”
As physically taxing and rewarding as the first-round series was, Matt Barnes doesn’t believe the Clippers are content with what they’ve accomplished yet.
“To be the best, you have to beat the best,” Barnes said. “We did that against the Spurs. We’ve had a lot of playoff disappointments in the past, but we feel like this is our year. We’re not done, and we believe we’re the best team in the playoffs.”
LAST TIME OUT
Clippers 111, Spurs 109 – What a series. The Clippers edged out the Spurs to send home the defending champions on a Game 7 game-winner from Chris Paul, who left earlier in the game with a strained hamstring only to make a triumphant return in the second quarter. Paul finished with 27 points, six assists and one turnover, while Blake Griffin had his second triple-double of the series.
Rockets 103, Mavericks 94 – Unlike the magnificent seven-game series the Clippers persevered through, the Rockets have been resting since winning Game 5 to capture the series against a Mavericks team in a state of flux. James Harden had 28 points and eight assists in the win, while Dwight Howard posted 18 points and 19 rebounds. The Rockets held the Mavs to 38 percent shooting.
DeAndre Jordan vs. Dwight Howard – This will be an absolute battle between the two talented big men, who haven’t seen each other this season. Howard missed all four matchups against the Clippers with injuries, and Jordan took advantage, averaging 14.5 points and 18 rebounds against the Rockets this year, including two games with at least 22 points and 19 rebounds. Jordan averaged 12.6 points, 13.3 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game in the first round, while Howard averaged 16.6 points, 13.8 rebounds and three blocks per game. A healthy Howard now makes looking at the regular season series tough to take much from.
“To gauge the games without Dwight are hard to gauge, but they don’t play differently,” Rivers said Sunday. “They go to the post more when Dwight’s in the games, but offensively and defensively, they run pretty much the same stuff. They’re better defensively, obviously, when Dwight’s on the floor, and they’re a better rebounding team when Dwight’s on the floor.”
TWO THINGS TO WATCH
Hamstrung? Chris Paul’s status is up in the air heading into Game 1, but Rivers said Sunday that Paul’s MRI “came out pretty well.” Still, Rivers added that the Clippers have to be careful.
“If there’s any risk, he won’t play,” Rivers said. “I can tell you that right now. I just don’t know yet. We’ll find out (Monday).”His guess immediately after the game was that Paul would sit the first game of the series, though he wasn’t sure. Paul’s listed as questionable.
3-Point Battle – It’ll be interesting to see whether or not both teams can get back to their stellar 3-point numbers from the regular season. The Rockets, led by Harden, made and shot more 3-pointers per game than any team in the league during the regular. Both the Rockets (11.4) and Clippers (10.1) were in the top three in made 3-pointers per game. The Clippers were also third in 3-point percentage (37.6).
The postseason has told a different story, with the Rockets and Clippers sitting No. 9 and No. 10, respectively, in 3-point percentage among playoff teams. Neither team finished the first round in the top five of 3-pointers made per game, but that could change as the teams meet in Round 2.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Doc Rivers: “You’re always in euphoria when you win a game or a series. But as you get closer to the city you’re going to, it starts to become realistic that that’s over now. It’s short-lived.”
Blake Griffin: “They’re a good team, great team, obviously have a good thing going. James has had an unbelievable year, Dwight had a huge series against Dallas, and really all the way down the line they’re a great team.
DeAndre Jordan: “It was definitely an emotional series (Round 1) with its ups and downs, but both teams really battled hard and I learned so much from it.”
NOTES: Doc Rivers said he planned on keeping the bench short against the Spurs, but he expects to use more bench players going forward to give his starters more rest … Matt Barnes added 17 points in Game 7, and the Clippers improved to 16-6 this season when he scores at least 13 points … Rivers said there was no extra swelling in Glen Davis’ ankle, as Big Baby played Saturday after hurting the ankle in Game 6 … Griffin finished the first round in the top 10 among all players in this year’s postseason in points per game (24.1), rebounds per game (13.1) and assists per game (7.4)… Paul combined for 65 points, 31 assists, eight steals and just two turnovers in his final three games against the Spurs …