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Rockets visiting Clippers in potential playoffs preview

Wednesday's game between the Houston Rockets and the Clippers in Los Angeles could be a preview of a first-round playoff matchup.

After beating Sacramento on Tuesday night, Houston is the third seed with four games remaining, a half-game ahead of Portland heading into Los Angeles. The Clippers sit in the sixth spot in the Western Conference with a chance to supplant Utah as the fifth seed with four games left in the regular season.

The Rockets and Clippers are two of the hottest teams heading down the stretch of the regular season with Los Angeles going 16-4 in their past 20 games and Houston winning 17 of the their past 20 games.

Houston expected to be right in the thick of the playoffs vying for the NBA title from the start of the season. The Clippers? Not so much, and especially after trading their leading scorer Tobias Harris and their best defender, Avery Bradley.

But the Clippers, one of the youngest teams in the league, persisted and came together as a team. The result, Los Angeles is back in the playoffs after missing the postseason last season.

"Even after the trade deadline, we had some guys that plugged in and bought into what we had going on here and it worked out," Lou Williams said. "And it's showing. The proof is in the pudding. We always felt like we were a good team if healthy, and it's showing."

Veteran Patrick Beverly echoed Williams' belief that the Clippers have grown by leaps and bounds, believe in each other and believe they can make a deep run in the playoffs.

"To be on this team, man, not one superstar and no one on the All-Star team," Beverly told the Los Angeles Times. "Everybody enjoys their role. We play the right way. We turn down good shots for great shots and it's been one of the best experiences for basketball that I've ever played with."

With Harris traded to Orlando, Williams is now the leading scorer at 20.3 points per game. Montrezl Harrell is the top rebounder at 6.6 per game and Beverly, the lock-down defender contributes five boards and nearly four assists per game.

Scan the Clippers' roster and there are no All-Stars.

The Rockets' roster is littered with stars and players with playoff experience. Of course, the unquestionable leaders are 2017-18 MVP James Harden and fellow future Hall of Famer Chris Paul.

They've been in this spot before and are taking a practical approach to the final regular-season games knowing the priority is to stay healthy, Paul told the Houston Chronicle

"See our defensive communication continue to pick up and hopefully get guys minutes so everybody hopefully can be sharp going into the playoffs," Paul said. "We just always want to play the right way, build the right habits."

Clint Capela, one of the Rockets' rising young starts, embraces that philosophy.

"Keep building on our defense, consistency defensively," he said. "Offensively, keep doing what we're doing which means, get rebounds, fast break, open shot, pick-and-rolls, pace and keep our guys healthy and confident for what's going to happen."

The two teams have not met since they played five days apart in October. The Clippers won 115-112 on Oct. 21 in Los Angeles. On Oct. 26 in Houston, the Clippers won by 20, 133-113.

--Field Level Media

Updated April 3, 2019

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