Clippers Slow Down Rockets
The Clippers enjoy playing the spoiler.
The Houston Rockets learned that lesson Thursday night at Staples Center when the Clippers defeated them for the third time this season, 97-92, behind another dominating game from center Michael Olowokandi and Lamar Odom’s second triple-double of the season.
Olowokandi, who outplayed Philadelphia’s Dikembe Mutombo in the Clippers’ victory over the 76ers on Tuesday, had 20 points and eight rebounds against the Rockets, who dropped 2 1/2 games behind idle Minnesota for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot.
“A lot of teams who are going to be playing the rest of the season are going for position for the playoffs,” said Olowokandi, who made nine of 16 field goals and blocked four shots before 14,059. “It’s a good thing if we can take it to those teams now so come next season when they have to play us, they will not be thinking that they’ll walk over us any more. We’ll have their respect, especially the teams in the West.”
Odom didn’t have a great night shooting, missing 12 of 15 field goals, but he finished with 12 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists for his fifth career triple-double.
The Rockets, led by Steve Francis’ 30 points, have had problems with the Clippers this season. They lost the first two meetings between the teams and needed a fourth-quarter rally to win at Houston when the Clippers were without Odom earlier this month.
On Thursday, the Clippers never trailed.
“I think we’re getting pretty good chemistry and we’re coming together,” Coach Alvin Gentry said about the Clippers, who have won five of their last six games at home. “We’re starting to play very good basketball.”
The Rockets did not start like a team hungry to reach the postseason. Houston missed its first eight shots and the Clippers took a 9-0 lead before many of the fans were seated.
The Clippers, who didn’t make their first substitution until 10:03 remained in the second quarter when rookie Darius Miles replaced Cherokee Parks, helped Houston escape a more embarrassing first half by falling asleep on defense against the Rockets’ half-court offense, which features various players going one-on-one.
After trailing by six points at halftime, Houston started the second half with more energy and tied the score at 49 early in the third quarter. But the Clippers responded with a rally of their own, led by Jeff McInnis, who made his second three-point shot of the game, giving him 29 of his last 60 such attempts. McInnis had 23 points.
The Clippers continued to exchange runs with the Rockets for the rest of the quarter and thanks to a couple of baskets by Olowokandi, the Clippers took a 70-61 lead after three quarters.
The most impressive part, however, was how the Clippers finished off Houston in the fourth quarter.
The Rockets, who have earned several come-from-behind victories recently, made it interesting down the stretch. After the Clippers led, 84-72, with five minutes remaining, Francis made consecutive three-point shots for the second time in the game to cut the Rockets’ deficit to 84-78 with three minutes left.
But the Clippers held on, thanks to some clutch rebounding and free-throw shooting by Miles, who had five points and seven rebounds, and Odom.
“We had the lead for most of the game and I know I kind of lost focus for a little bit,” Odom said. “But we were able to hold them off. We know they have that type of game where they can be running and gunning and playing real loose. We figured they were going to make a run, but we had steady defense all night.”
With the victory, the Clippers are 17-18 at home and have won two games in a row and three of their last four. Their next game will be Monday when they play at Portland in their final game of the season against the Trail Blazers.
Get our high school sports newsletter
Prep Rally is devoted to the SoCal high school sports experience, bringing you scores, stories and a behind-the-scenes look at what makes prep sports so popular.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.