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Sport Opinion: Clippers, Rockets rivalry turning into a heated, heavyweight bout

17:42  20 december  2019
17:42  20 december  2019 Source:   usatoday.com

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The Clippers - Rockets rivalry has been brewing for some time and now has blossomed into NBA's next best thing. LOS ANGELES — The star players took turns making plays that capture their greatness. The feisty players took turns yapping at each other and officials. And once the Houston Rockets clinched a 122-117 win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday at Staples Center, one thing became abundantly clear: Both teams provided plenty of evidence that suggests that the heated rivalry is in full-tilt and to expect a close and contentious series come playoff time.

The Los Angeles Clippers host Russell Westbrook and the Houston Rockets this Friday, and tip-off from the Staples Center is set for 10:30 p.m. ET. Both sides have title aspirations after adding superstars to their team in the offseason, and both squads are mostly healthy heading into what might be a preview for the Western Conference Finals series. The Clippers have Kawhi Leonard and Paul George healthy together for just the second time this year, but they will be without starting shooting guard Landry Shamet (ankle).

LOS ANGELES – The star players took turns making plays that capture their greatness. The feisty players took turns yapping at each other and officials.

And once the Houston Rockets clinched a 122-117 win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday at Staples Center, one thing became abundantly clear: Both teams provided plenty of evidence that suggests that the heated rivalry is in full-tilt and to expect a close and contentious series come playoff time.

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The Clippers come into this one with a 21-8 record that puts them in the No. 2 spot in the Western Conference, while Houston is just two games behind them. These teams faced off in Los Angeles a month ago, and while the Clippers took the win, Houston narrowly covered the spread. Sportsbooks list Los Angeles as a five-point home favorite, while the over-under for total points is 234 in the latest Rockets vs Clippers odds. Before you make any Clippers vs. Rockets picks or NBA predictions, you'll want to see what SportsLine's advanced computer model has to say.

Intradivision rivalries are few and far between in today's NBA, but there may be hope yet for the revival of bad blood and vitriol if the Los Angeles Clippers and top-seeded Golden State Warriors wind up on a collision course come playoff time. Between last season's seven-game meeting in the first round, the Warriors' rapid rise, Los Angeles' talent pool and some compelling interpersonal rifts, a postseason redux would set the stage for an epic seven-game battle between the NBA's top two offenses.

“Protect the tunnels,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers joked. “We do that, I think everything’s going to be good. I don’t know what it is. But it is something there, there’s no doubt about it. Let’s keep playing them. I’m all for it.”

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The rivalry has been brewing for some time. Nothing captured that more than two years ago when former Rockets guard Chris Paul led his teammates into the Clippers’ locker room after they became irritated with Blake Griffin for both his on-court trash talk and for running into Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni on the sideline. Hence, Rivers’ joke about protecting the supposed tunnels that Paul snuck through after the game.

Russell Westbrook wearing a uniform: Rockets guard Russell Westbrook reacts after scoring a three pointer in the second half.© Gary A. Vasquez, USA TODAY Sports Rockets guard Russell Westbrook reacts after scoring a three pointer in the second half.

Both the Clippers and Rockets have significantly different rosters since then. And yet, they still have all the ingredients for a feisty rivalry. Though they remain amicable after the Oklahoma City Thunder dealt them in separate deals last summer, Houston’s Russell Westbrook (40 points) and the Clippers’ Paul George (34) took turns outperforming each other.

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They got into a heated conversation that was quickly broken up by a Clippers official, who led Griffin to the adjacent news conference room. Before walking into the room, Griffin could be heard telling O'Neal, "Leave that s--- on the court." The Clippers made sure to celebrate their win Jan. 5 as loudly as they felt the Warriors had done in previous matchups. During one stretch in the third quarter, Paul hit Jordan for three straight lob dunks, prompting Jackson to call a timeout in which he spent almost the entire time glaring at the celebrating Clippers bench.

The Los Angeles Clippers won their fourth straight game in thrilling fashion after defeating the visiting Houston Rockets 122-119 on Friday at Staples Center. Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard hit the game-winning mid-range jumper with 15.4 seconds left to give the Clips a 120-119 edge. Opinion : Clippers , Rockets rivalry turning into a heated , heavyweight bout . 20 Dec 2019.

In fairness, George has the right perspective on this rivalry.

“We ain’t won a chip. Houston ain’t won it forever. It’s got to be a little bit more to be a rivalry,” George said. “Both teams are competing. But it’s got to be a little bit more there.”

There is enough, though, to know what is coming next.

In the Clippers’ first loss to Houston on Nov. 13, Rockets guard Austin Rivers motioned to the officials to issue a technical to his dad. They eventually listened. Westbrook critiqued Patrick Beverley’s defensive credentials and considered him a flopper. The Clippers rectified that game nine days later. George and Leonard played with each other for just the second time. Harden dismissed the Clippers’ constant trapping at half-court. D’Antoni questioned why officials did not punish Doc Rivers for walking on the court to call a timeout during crunch time. And on Thursday, the Rockets overcame a 15-point half-time deficit because of Westbrook’s aggressiveness and the Clippers’ failure to handle adversity well.

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“It’s a dog fight and it’s tough,” D’Antoni said. “They’re really good. It’s a heck of a battle. It’s some heavyweights slugging it out. I’m sure the fourth will be the same way, and then we’ll see what happens.”

"A lot of talent on the floor. A lot of people competing," Westbrook said after the game. "A lot of people talking. A lot of antics going on. People like to see that."

Perhaps the bitterness will continue when the Clippers (19-9) and Rockets (21-9) compete again on March 5. That will not be likely the last time they meet, though. They could meet in the Western Conference semifinals. And though the Clippers have been considered favorites to win the NBA championships, the Rockets have a chance to upset them or at least make it a tiring series.

“Everyone knows we’re two of the best teams in the league. These matchups are always on national TV," Houston forward P.J. Tucker said. “We love that. Our bad games are when we play boring games and nobody is paying attention. When the stakes are high and it's good teams, we always show up and play hard.”

The second half began with Westbrook demanding for officials to bring out a ladder to confirm that the rim stood at 10 feet and was not lopsided. The second half ended with Westbrook and Beverley receiving double technicals after Westbrook talked trash toward Beverley after he fouled out. Westbrook offered zero regret for any of the incidents despite Harden lecturing him. Yet, D'Antoni contended he does not need to address his players on how to behave.

Westbrook scores 40 as Rockets rally to defeat Clippers

  Westbrook scores 40 as Rockets rally to defeat Clippers LOS ANGELES (AP) — Russell Westbrook scored a season-high 40 points, James Harden added 28 and the Houston Rockets rallied from a 16-point deficit in the second half to beat the Los Angeles Clippers 122-117 Thursday night. After Houston turned a 77-61 deficit into a 101-89 lead, Los Angeles went on a spurt of its own to lead 113-107 with 4:29 left. The Rockets closed on a 15-4 run to snap the Clippers' 10-game home winning streak. Paul GeorgeThe Lawndale native and former UCLA standout scored 40 points and grabbed 10 rebounds as the Rockets rallied for a 122-117 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.

“They know how to do it. They can live on the edge,” D’Antoni said. “They understand the importance of every play. They police themselves pretty good.”

George blamed himself for not guiding the Clippers through adversity. But that should not fall on a player that did not allow his emotions to overwhelm him.

“We're a pretty calm group, but it happens. It's a good lesson, maybe,” Rivers said. “I'd rather for it to happen now than in the fourth quarter of a playoff game.”

After all, the Rockets and Clippers will likely meet in the playoffs in about five months. Then, a similar episode might unfold as it did on Thursday.

Follow USA TODAY NBA writer Mark Medina on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Opinion: Clippers, Rockets rivalry turning into a heated, heavyweight bout

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