Do the Rockets and Clippers Impress Enough to be Championship Contenders?

Dylan Pulver

Throughout the first four months of the 2013-14 NBA season, both the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Clippers pushed themselves into the league’s small collection of elite teams. Only one question remains: does either team have what it takes to win an NBA championship?

The Rockets have been on a tear as of late, winning 11 of their last 13 games. They are at 40-19 for the season overall, which is good enough for the fifth seed in the West (due to seeding technicalities), and the sixth best record in the NBA. Houston has also posted good records both at home and on the road: 23-7 and 17-12, respectively. The Rockets are in good standing mainly thanks to the presence of shooting guard James Harden, the 5th-highest scorer in the league at 24.5 points per game, and Dwight Howard (C), the fourth-highest rebounder at 12.5 per game.

Houston has also benefitted from the solid play of Chandler Parsons, the emergence of Terrence Jones and Jeremy Lin’s award-deserving firepower off the bench. The Rockets run a very fast offense, which has allowed them to dominate on that end and put themselves at third in the league for total points per game. However, this fast-paced offense has not only made the Rockets lose on defense at points (they are 20th in the league for opponent points per game), but also caused them to turn the ball over

second-most per game in the league. Also, however good Dwight Howard is in scoring and rebounding, he will always be a below-average free-throw shooter. Teams have strategized to purposefully foul Howard which has put Houston at 29th in free throw percentage in the NBA. In addition, the Rockets are only 5-7 against five of the league’s other six elite teams (they have not played the Heat), including both a stunning 3-0 against the constantly good Spurs and a dreadful 0-3 against the Doc Rivers-led Clippers. Unless James Harden or Dwight Howard become unstoppable in the Playoffs, which includes making free throws, the Rockets may reach the Western Conference Finals, but definitely no further.

The Clippers are currently 41-20, fourth in the West and poised for a deep Playoff run. While they are close to .500 on the road at 16-15, they are a dominant 25-5 at the Staples Center. Blake Griffin  is having a career year, with averages of 24.2 points, 9.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists and a steal per game. Both Chris Paul (PG) and DeAndre Jordan (C) are on or near the top of multiple statistic lists, with Paul topping the assists tally at 11.1 per game and coming very close for steals at 2.43 per game, and Jordan topping the rebounds list with a monster 13.9 per game, topping field goal percentage at 66.5% and coming close for blocks with 2.46 a game. The Clippers have also received solid contributions this season from Jamal Crawford, Darren Collison and J.J. Redick when he is healthy, and just added veterans Glen Davis and Danny Granger to their bench squad. Overall, the Clippers are an amazing offensive team at second in the league for points per game, third for assists per game and an average defensive team at worst, though they do force a fair amount of turnovers. The team formerly known as Los Angeles’ “other team” only has two concerns. The Clippers have to make other teams foul anyone besides DeAndre Jordan, who is shooting an abysmal percentage from the line this season. They also need to figure out how to beat the East’s elite duo of the Heat and Pacers, whom the Clippers are 0-4 against this season.

With championship coach Doc Rivers at the helm, and with the likes of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin leading the way, the Clippers have a fair shot at a championship this season as long as they figure out how to get to Miami and Indiana by the Finals.

Contact Dylan Pulver at [email protected].