Why Rockets-Clippers is set up to become the next great NBA rivalry
This past summer saw an infusion of dynamic duo talents taking over the NBA landscape, and two of the most notable offseason moves included Kawhi Leonard and Paul George teaming up on the Los Angeles Clippers and the Houston Rockets trading veteran point guard for former league MVP Russell Westbrook, reuniting with ex-Oklahoma City Thunder backcourt mate James Harden.
These two teams already have a history together on a macro level, although many of the players on the current iterations of the squads were not all involved. The 2015 Western Conference semi-finals saw the Los Angeles Clippers, during the Lob City era, squander a 3-1 series lead to Harden and the Rockets, who ended up losing to the eventual-champion Golden State Warriors in five games in the conference finals.
Most of the players involved have shuffled, although Harden, of course, remains in Houston, and Patrick Beverley has since switched teams—joining the Clippers in 2017-18 via trade (part of the package that brought CP3 to Clutch City).
Nonetheless, the star players for each team also have their own grievances. George and Westbrook never could escape the first round of the playoffs in just the two seasons that played together in OKC. Now they stand on opposing teams in the Western Conference competing for the spot for the 2020 NBA Finals in the Warriors’ notable absence.
Both players, and teams, can’t win the conference, and we have already seen trash talk thrown at the Rockets and Clippers in their two matchups so far (including Rockets guard Austin Rivers talking smack to his father, L.A. head coach Doc Rivers).
Getting back to Beverley, the fearsome perimeter defender for the Clippers is inextricably to Westbrook due to the multiple collisions they have faced when the L.A. point guard was in Houston and the All-Star competed for the Thunder. Beverley’s contact with Westbrook in Game 2 of the first round of the 2013 playoffs between OKC and Houston saw the then-future MVP go down and partially tear the meniscus in his right knee.
Obviously, every encounter between Westbrook and Beverley has been dicey, and the beef between the two physical guards is not going away any time soon.
For the immediate future, both the Clippers and Rockets should have their All-Stars locked up financially—with Harden signed through 2023, the same for Westbrook, and PG and Kawhi in the City of Angels for at least this season and the next one.
Hopefully we get at least one playoff series between these two squads because the competition is riveting, and as long as these stars are aligned, there is sure to be a great rivalry.
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