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NBA: Clippers hope smooth sailing continues against Rockets

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The surging Los Angeles Clippers begin a three-game road swing Friday in Houston against the sputtering Houston Rockets.

Los Angeles (42-19) comes in a winner of three straight and 10 of 11, extending its run Wednesday with a 117-105 defeat of Memphis. The Clippers’ victory over a Grizzlies team currently in position to qualify for the Western Conference play-in tournament came with leading scorers Kawhi Leonard and Paul George both sidelined, as well as veteran role players Serge Ibaka, Reggie Jackson, Rajon Rondo and Patrick Beverley.

“We don’t want to make excuses,” said Clippers coach Tyronn Lue in his postgame press conference on Wednesday. “A lot of teams are down players, and they’re finding ways to keep playing and keep competing. That is what we want to do.”

Luke Kennard knocked down 6-of-7 3-point attempts en route to 28 points against Memphis, pacing Los Angeles to a 14-of-27 night beyond the arc as a team. The 51.9 percent output was almost 10 percent higher than the Clippers’ season-long 42.0, which is best in the NBA.

Marcus Morris added 25 points. He is averaging 21.7 points per game in his last six appearances, which includes a season-high 33 points against Detroit on April 11.

Morris’ play has helped buoy the Clippers over their current run, during which Leonard has missed six of seven games with foot soreness. Leonard remains out on Friday, along with Beverley due to a hand injury and Ibaka with a back injury.

George, who has scored at least 32 points in six of his last seven appearances, has dealt with a toe injury that sidelined him for Los Angeles’ last meeting with Houston — a 126-109 Clippers win on April 9.

The Rockets (15-44) began an ongoing stretch losing seven of eight with their last matchup against the Clippers. Houston most recently dropped a 112-89 decision Wednesday to Utah.

It was the third contest in the Rockets’ last four in which they failed to score at least 100 points, a byproduct of their 10-of-49 3-point shooting night.

Houston comes into Friday’s matchup with the NBA’s best 3-point shooting team sporting the league’s worst cumulative average beyond the arc, 33.4 percent.

“If they’re going to let you shoot wide-open (3-pointers), you’re going to have to knock some of them in,” Kelly Olynyk said in his postgame press conference on Wednesday.

In addition to on-court woes, which have resulted in Houston dipping to last place in the Western Conference, the Rockets face off-court challenges ahead of Friday’s contest.

Kevin Porter Jr. is sidelined for violating COVID-19 health and safety protocols during a visit to a Miami strip club. Teammate Sterling Brown, recovering from a knee injury, was allegedly assaulted on the same visit.

Porter’s absence adds to a lengthy list of players unavailable on the Houston roster, including guards Dante Exum (calf), D.J. Augustin (ankle) and Eric Gordon (groin). Wings Danuel House (ankle) and David Nwaba (wrist) have missed the last several weeks, as well.

Season-long leading scorers Christian Wood and John Wall have missed 23 and 20 games, respectively. Among Wall’s absences was Houston’s last meeting with Los Angeles. Wood scored 23 points in the April 9 encounter.

–Field Level Media

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