Clippers fall as Rockets score bunch off bench

On The Clippers

This is what happens when the Clippers venture out of their comfort zone and have to play teams other than Minnesota and Memphis.

And, sadly for them, no games looming in the near future against Golden State. Exactly half of the Clippers victories this season have come against those three teams.

If the goal was to keep .500, if not at close hand, at least within decent reach by the time injured rookie Blake Griffin joined the lineup . . . that’s rapidly sliding through their fingers.

The Houston Rockets defeated the Clippers, 108-99, on Tuesday night at Toyota Center with Carl Landry coming off the bench and looking nearly unstoppable, scoring 27 points, tying a career high.

It wasted what was a career night for Clippers center Chris Kaman in terms of points (29) and field goals (13). His previous career high in points, 27, came against Dallas on Oct. 31.

Kaman was probably the most depressed 29-point scorer you’ll ever see, hanging his head in the locker room. He also had six turnovers and earned a technical in the third quarter for some choice, unprintable words directed at the refs.

“It doesn’t matter at all,” Kaman said of the career night. “It was just frustrating. We played pretty decent, couple of lapses. Decent enough to get the win.”

This loss dropped the Clippers to four games below .500 with the likes of Phoenix (Friday), Boston (Sunday) and Portland (Dec. 30) around the corner.

Griffin on Tuesday was to have had tests on his injured left knee, including a CT scan, but the team said it did not know the results. Even under a best-case scenario, he would appear to be out at least six to eight more games.

That is the future. The present wasn’t looking good either.

For the Clippers, the most telling number was the huge disparity in bench play. If suspect bench play was a concern Monday in the loss to the Spurs, it became a full-blown issue Tuesday. Why?

Houston 62, Clippers 12.

That was the vast gulf between the benches.

The Rockets had the 27 from Landry, who was playing in his first game since his dental mishap against the Mavericks’ Dirk Nowitzki on Friday, and a rounding-into-form Tracy McGrady and Kyle Lowry combined for 26, also off the bench.

That put pressure on the Clippers starters to put in big minutes, and the fatigue factor came into play in the fourth quarter. The Clippers were scrambling from behind and trailed by 11 at the half.

They pulled to within two points with 10:12 remaining but promptly had a shot-clock violation and another turnover. That combined with two missed shots turned into an eight-point Rockets’ lead.

“The problem is that I had used up a lot of my starters in order to get us back in the game,” Clippers Coach Mike Dunleavy said. “They had a couple of big plays that allowed them to stretch their lead back up.

“We had a couple of plays at the rim where we were hoping to get to the free-throw line and that didn’t happen for us.”

Said Kaman: “Sometimes there’s a little hump there, a mental barrier. But it wasn’t like that. It’s just frustrating to lose a game when you play so hard. It hurts to lose.”

Landry gave the Clippers fits all night, in particular Marcus Camby, who did have 19 rebounds. The Clippers were able to keep guard Aaron Brooks and swingman Trevor Ariza (seven points apiece) in check but had no answers for Landry and company.

Kaman shouldered some of the blame.

“Part of it’s on me, not being able to do a good job of guarding him,” he said. “I wasn’t ready for the physical-ness, probably a little bit. It’s frustrating because I’m better than that. It makes me mad.”

Landry, who spent five hours in the dentist’s chair after the Dallas mishap in which he lost five teeth, spoke about the well-balanced Rockets.

“We don’t have any superstars, but we have a lot of dogs in this locker room that are hungry and who want to win,” he said.

Dogs with just enough teeth, apparently.