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Rockets leave Clippers frustrated, still seeking 50th win

The SportsXchange

HOUSTON -- Earlier in this extended stretch of home games, the Houston Rockets experienced firsthand the energy provided by a shorthanded opponent.

Evidently that sluggish start against the Minnesota Timberwolves provided a valuable lesson, for with the roles reversed as the Rockets torched the Los Angeles Clippers 98-81 Saturday night at Toyota Center.

Even without the NBA's fifth-leading scorer, James Harden, who was sidelined by a sore right foot, Houston (40-33) mustered the offensive gumption necessary to subdue the weary Clippers (49-25), who played their fourth game in five nights.

The Rockets' defense also was sensational, starting with their second-quarter surge to the lead.

"I just said (prior to the game) it was their fourth game in five nights; we've got to come out with energy," Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. "We've got to run, run, run, run and we did. We kept pushing it."

Contributions came from all corners, from center Omer Asik (13 points, 12 rebounds) posting his 30th double-double to reserve swingman Francisco Garcia scoring 15 points after watching four of the five previous games from the bench. Rockets guard Jeremy Lin added 15 points, and forward Chandler Parsons had 15 points and nine rebounds.

The Clippers needed a victory to set franchise records for overall wins (50) and road victories (22), but the Rockets erased all doubt by shooting 57.9 percent in their 30-point third quarter, turning a five-point halftime lead into a 85-63 advantage going into the fourth quarter.

"Everybody chipped in," Lin said. "If you look across the board there was no one who really did anything spectacular, but it was just everybody doing their role and doing their job and that's what you need when you lose our best player, our star player. Everybody else has to rally and pitch in a little bit here and a little bit there."

After suffering close losses to Dallas and San Antonio on their trek through the Southwest Division, the Clippers failed to muster the energy to stifle the Rockets. Having dropped back-to-back games to the Pacers and Grizzlies in which they never led, the Rockets didn't waste the opportunity to force the Clippers to submit in the second half.

Chris Paul led the Clippers with 19 points, seven assists and three steals, Jamal Crawford added 15 points off the bench and Blake Griffin chipped in 12 points. The Clippers, renowned for their nightly assaults on the rim, mustered only 26 points in the paint compared to the Rockets' 48.

"This is not the way you get to 50 wins," Paul said. "If I knew why (the Clippers played so poorly), I'd tell you. I know this is on us."

Los Angeles rode early 5-of-6 shooting from 3-point range, plus seven Houston turnovers, to a one-point lead entering the second quarter. But the Clippers followed with eight second-quarter turnovers and Garcia poured in 13 points on 4-of-5 shooting from the field in that quarter.

The Rockets' momentum extended into the third period, with one play emblematic of their effort without Harden and his 26-point average.

With Houston up 16, Rockets reserve guard Patrick Beverley snatched an offensive rebound from the hands of Clippers backup center Ryan Hollins, turning an 11-inch height disadvantage into an assist on Parsons' subsequent 3-pointer with 1:24 left. The Rockets never looked back, leaving Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro seething afterward.

"They played harder than we did," Del Negro said. "We were terrible. Our effort was terrible, our attitude was terrible, our urgency was terrible. Very disappointed. I didn't see the fight in us. We need guys to step up. I know it's the fourth game in five nights but all that doesn't matter. We've got plenty of depth. No excuses. I don't believe in that.

"We were soft, we were sloppy. Our urgency was poor, our defense was poor, our transition defense was poor, our post defense was poor, our pick-and-roll defense was poor. I can go on and on. Just a poor effort."

NOTES: Harden, the NBA's fifth-leading scorer at 26 points per game, missed his third game this season and first since Feb. 13 -- coincidentally enough, also against the Clippers -- with a sore right foot. Harden has played through an injury first suffered Feb. 12 at Golden State, but a cortisone shot weeks ago did not fully eliminate the symptoms. "It's one of those things that hopefully gets better soon. Needless to say, we need him," McHale said. "It's been bothering him off and on ... we'll see where it goes." ... James Anderson replaced Harden in the starting lineup as one of two changes implemented by McHale. Greg Smith made his first career start, replacing foul-prone rookie Donatas Motiejunas at forward. ... On Saturday night, the Clippers dropped their sixth consecutive game against a Western Conference playoff contender, including five such games in March. "We haven't been able to capitalize on a couple good efforts, but that's the NBA," Del Negro said. "It comes down to execution. It comes down to concentration and being mentally tough in the biggest moments. As tough as it is to lose those tough games, it's also something that you can't look back on other than to do a little bit better the next time we're in those positions."
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