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Rockets’ Chris Paul will miss reunion game vs. Clippers

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HOUSTON  (AP) — Chris Paul‘s highly anticipated meeting with his former Los Angeles Clippers teammates will have to wait.

The former Clippers star will not be in uniform Friday when his new team, the Houston Rockets, host the Clippers at Toyota Center. Paul sustained a strained left adductor against the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday and was ruled out for the Friday game.

The Rockets also are expected to again be without Luc Mbah a Moute (dislocated shoulder) and Clint Capela (bruised heel), leaving them short-handed against a Clippers club that is without Blake Griffin (sprained knee), Danilo Gallinari (torn glute) and Patrick Beverley (knee surgery).

This is Paul’s second injury this season. He missed a month with a knee injury sustained in the opener.

Paul has averaged 17.1 points, 9.0 assists, 5.4 rebounds and 2.1 steals in 16 games — the first 15 of them wins before a 122-116 loss to the Lakers on Wednesday. His next chance to face his old team comes Jan. 15 in Los Angeles.

Before losing to the Lakers, the Rockets (25-5) had won 14 consecutive games. But they have missed their injured players.

Houston kept on winning even as the defense began to lag — until Wednesday night when, hamstrung by the absences of Mbah a Moute and Capela and the loss of Paul, the defense collapsed fully.

What the Lakers managed in their victory was a scoring display that proved the Rockets aren’t quite where they were defensively.

“It’s always a concern on defense. Even when we win, it’s still a concern on defense,” Rockets forward P.J. Tucker said. “So, that’s always something that we talk about, even on nights where it may look good and we win by 20. Our defense still may not be that good, so that’s something we always address whether we win or lose.”

The Rockets’ 14-game winning streak masked their defensive warts. Over the past seven games, Houston has posted a defensive rating of 109.4, a mark that ranks just 24th in the NBA in that span. Mbah a Moute, a versatile perimeter defender, has missed four of those games while Capela, the Rockets’ best rim protector, sat Wednesday for the second time in three games. Their absences matter.

The Rockets have slipped into the habit of relying on their elite offense to bail them out of early deficits instead of defending with vigor from the opening tip. With a short-handed roster, Houston must mask its injuries with consistent commitment on defense.

“We’ve got to pick up our intensity at the beginning and get through this little stretch of a lot of games in a row with people out,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said after the Wednesday game. “It’s a loss. We’ll take it and start another streak on Friday.”

The Clippers (12-18) snapped a three-game skid with a 108-95 win over the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday night. They improved to 5-2 with Milos Teodosic, who recorded a season-high eight assists in the victory, in their lineup. However, the Clippers’ injury woes are not completely behind them.

Gallinari went back on the shelf and is expected to be sidelined for at least two weeks. He has played in just 11 games this season. Gallinari reclaimed a seat on the bench alongside guard Beverley, who is out for the season, and Griffin, who has missed 11 games with a sprained left MCL.

“If anybody is used to it, it’s our team,” Clippers guard Austin Rivers said of the injuries. “We don’t even look to see who’s playing; we just go play. I don’t even know who’s playing until we’re out (on the court) and we do a lineup and it’s like, ‘Who’s out here with me tonight?’ That’s just the situation that it is. Once you stop paying attention to it and just focus on hooping, it’s just easier.”

Watch best of Klay Thompson’s nine threes, 35-point night

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Stephen Curry is a better shooter. Kevin Durant is a better scorer with a bigger toolbox.

But no Warrior can get as white-hot as Klay Thompson.

He did that on Saturday night helping the Warriors to a Game 6 win, getting his rhythm and becoming a scoring machine in the second half, finishing with 35 points including hitting 9-of-14 from three, and having six rebounds. He was just as important on the other end of the floor.

“I thought Klay was amazing tonight, not just for 35 points and the nine threes, but his defense,” Coach Steve Kerr said. “The guy’s a machine. He’s just so fit physically. He seems to thrive in these situations. But he was fantastic.”

Thompson will need to bring some of that Heat in Game 7 on the road if the Warriors are going to head back to the NBA Finals.

Backs against wall down 17, Warriors crank up defense, rain threes, force Game 7

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Warriors’ fans have been asking one question since the season tipped off in October:

What is it going to take to get Golden State to truly focus and play up to their potential?

Apparently, the answer is going down 17 to the Houston Rockets in a playoff elimination game.

Houston entered Oracle Saturday night playing smart and with energy, defending as they had the previous two games and then turning that into transition buckets and threes — eight of them in the first quarter. Houston was up 17 in the first and 10 at the half.

However, Golden State had started to defend better in the second quarter and they cranked up the intensity to the level fans had hoped to see in the second half — Houston scored 39 points in the first quarter and 47 combined in the final three. The Warriors were also forcing turnovers, 21.3 percent of Rockets possessions ended with a turnover (more than one in five trips down the court). Houston had 25 points in the second half and shot 2-of-9 from three in the third quarter.

At the same time, Klay Thompson led an onslaught of threes for Golden State (Thompson had 9 threes on the night). The Warriors defense turned into offense.

The result was a dramatic turnaround and a 115-86 Golden State win, tying the Western Conference Finals at 3-3.

Game 7 is in Houston Monday night. Winner advances to the NBA Finals.

“Effort. Intensity. Passion,” Thompson said of the Warriors’ second-half surge. “When we do that, and we rotate, and we help each other we’re the best defensive team in the league.”

While it was their defense that sparked everything, the Warriors also found an offense that worked against the Rockets’ switching defense — more Stephen Curry with the ball in his hands. There are a few ways to counter a switching defense and one is a creative ballhandler who can still make plays — not just isolation plays, but who can create a little space and find guys moving off the ball despite the pressure. Curry was that guy, he was the Warriors best all-around player on the night. He had a high IQ game and added 29 points. With the offense not running through Kevin Durant isolations, it just flowed better (the Warriors best lineup of the night was Curry, Thompson, Draymond Green, Shaun Livingston, and Nick Young, +13 in just more than eight minutes).

It just took a lot of pressure from a Rockets team to get Golden State into that mental frame of mind.

Houston opened this game with the same defensive energy they had the last two games, and once again it flustered the Golden State offense. Except, this time the Rockets did a much better job of turning those misses and turnovers into transition points (the Rockets averaged two points per possession on the break in the first half). Throw in some terrible defensive communication errors by the Warriors, and the Rockets were raining threes in the first half — 11-of-22, with Gordon going 4-of-4.

The Warriors had some success with an ultra-small lineup that unleashed Curry, but as soon as non-shooters were on the floor — Kevon Looney, Jordon Bell, and the Rockets were daring Draymond Green and Shaun Livingston to shoot — Houston shrunk the floor and took away passing lanes, plus contested every shot.

In the second half, the Warriors used that Curry energy and hit their threes to pull away. The Warriors were at their best with Bell as the fifth man with the four All-Stars, he brought an energy and athleticism that made things flow on both ends. Don’t be shocked if he starts Game 7 for Golden State.

If the Warriors pack up that second half energy with them and take it to Houston, there is not much the Rockets will be able to do. But do not expect these gritty, feisty Rockets to go quietly into that good night.

Rockets were draining threes in the first half against Warriors in Game 6

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The Rockets were feeling it the first half in Game 6.

Playing with an energy the Warriors lacked at least in the first quarter), Houston defended well, pushed the ball in transition, and then they just drained three after three after three.

Eric Gordon started 4-of-4 from three and the team was 11-of-22 in the first half, which made up for the 11 turnovers and had them up 17 at one point and ahead by 10 after the first half.

Warriors’ Andre Iguodala out for Game 6

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Steve Kerr has been searching for a couple of games now for his fifth guy.

With Andre Iguodala out there is no Death/Hamptons 5 lineup and Kerr is looking for a fifth guy to partner with his four All-Stars. Kevon Looney is starting, Jordan Bell is showing potential but also makes some rookie plays, Nick Young has been bad enough that Kerr trusted Quin Cook more at the end of the last game (and Cook missed his looks).

Kerr is going to have to keep searching for a guy in Game 6 because Iguodala is out again.

The Warriors are not the team heading into Game 6 with the most significant injury woes, the Rockets are without Chris Paul. That and the fact the Warriors’ backs are against the wall is the reason they are heavy favorites in Game 6.

However, the Warriors have not been the same without Iguodala. He is a playmaker who can control the ball and settle things down, makes the right decision, get the player and ball movement the Warriors have strayed too much from back, plus is one of their best defenders on James Harden. Nobody else on the roster can do that.

And if Game 6 gets tight late, the Warriors are going to miss those skills. As they have in the last two games.