LOS ANGELES – Only one member of the Houston Rockets has confessed to hoping to face the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs following the team's 135-103 loss on the road Wednesday night at Staples Center.
For Austin Rivers, this is purely personal reasons, a chance to claim the right to brag about his family and beat the team that traded it last summer. Chris Paul played timidly, but Rivers knows that he feels the same way.
"Absolutely, you can see it tonight in the way he played," Rivers told ESPN after Paul burned the Clippers for 27 points and seven assists, a performance highlighted by a 60-foot drummer buzzer at the end of the third quarter. "You are playing against your old team, that's what you're doing, that would make the competition even more competitive, and it's a good team, they would attack us because so many of their guys played here." so would be fun series. "
The rest of the Rockets? It does not matter who comes to the Toyota Center to open the playoffs next weekend.
It will likely be Clippers in a third and sixth-seeded duel, a probability that has increased with Wednesday's head-to-head result, as well as wins from second place Denver Nuggets and fifth place , Utah Jazz. If this is the case, the Rockets will consider that this victory will not be relevant.
"You can not really make too many statements," said Paul disdainfully, pointing out that the Clippers are a much tougher team with Pat Beverley. The pitbull guard, who was part of the package that the Rockets gave up for Paul to co-star with James Harden, was absent Wednesday night with a hip injury.
A statement that the Rockets will do with confidence: they are able to beat anybody else they continue to ride as they have been recently.
"If we do what we are supposed to do, no one can beat us," said PJ attacker Tucker at ESPN. "No matter who it is, it does not matter, if we play at this level we will win, no matter who we play, if we play the way we play tonight we will win."
The Rockets have good reason to believe, and it has little to do with the strong possibility that there was a championship parade in downtown Houston if Paul's hamstrings did not appear at the last minute of their victory over the match Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference final of last season.
That's about right now for the Rockets, who are the best basketball team since the break from the All-Star game.
Houston, with its core players ultimately all healthy, is one of the best 18-4 leagues on this period and ranks second in offensive and defensive efficiency.
Paul, the future Hall of Fame member who forced the deal in Houston because he felt that the Clippers' window while the legitimate contenders were closed, looks like a league sidekick again after an early season slow and prolonged absence due to tension in the hamstrings. He still does not shoot the ball as well as he would like, but Paul is once again a playmaker and elite defender. He dominated every facet of the game on Wednesday, while the Rockets outclassed the Clippers by 23 points in 27 minutes.
Houston's third star, Center Clint Capela, who missed 15 games due to a thumb operation in the middle of the season, has once again become an elastic monster. His length and athleticism overwhelmed Los Angeles while Capela recorded 24 points, 15 rebounds and 2 blocks in the eruption.
Harden, as said the Clippers' coach, Doc Rivers, before the game, plays so well that it seems easy to play at 50 points. He scored 31 goals on Wednesday, needing only 15 shots to do it.
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The Rockets, who have the NBA 's second – best defense since the All – Star break, silenced the Nuggets in a 112-85 victory on Thursday, a performance that coach Mike D & # 39; Antoni qualified as his best defensive effort of the season.
And the depth problems that were part of the Rockets' many early-season problems have been solved. Rivers and Kenneth Faried, the buyout contracts signed as an emergency departure when Paul and Capela fell to the ground, now offer a game of equivalent quality from the pine. Danuel House Jr., who returned from the G League after forcing Daryl Morey to blink after a contractual stalemate, is another key element that was not part of the rotation to start the season.
The Rockets, who are one – and – a – half behind the Nuggets and have the tiebreaker, would prefer to take the second seed. But their main concern is to stay healthy: two exceptional wins on this west coast helped this cause by allowing starters to rest late, while still enjoying their momentum for the playoffs.
If they can do it, they are sure it will not matter if they play Clippers, Jazz, Spurs or Thunder in the first round. Or when they finally have to go through Golden State.
"I really think we're starting to peak at the right time before the playoffs," said Rivers. "If we can continue in this way, as I said earlier and that people have done a lot, but I think if we continue to defend like that and play like that, I really think we can do something special.
"We are pretty good, I really believe we are good enough to win everything, but we have to play at this level with this state of mind because the team that has won three of the last four [titles]they do it every game. The Warriors play at a different level, so to beat them we will have to play as we do now. "