Clippers catch fire early in win over Rockets

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Los Angeles Clippers forward Caron Butler, left, puts up a shot as Houston Rockets center Omer Asik, of Turkey, defends during the first half of their NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

LOS ANGELES—The Los Angeles Clippers set the tone with a 46-point first quarter and rolled to a 106-96 NBA victory over the Houston Rockets on Wednesday.

Caron Butler scored 17 of his 19 points in the first quarter, when the Clippers shot a blistering 77.3 percent from the field. They led 46-28 after one period and were up 69-49 at half-time.

The Rockets, playing without their injured leading scorer James Harden, could not dig themselves out of the hole.

Blake Griffin led Los Angeles with 20 points and 11 rebounds. Butler and Chauncey Billups added 19 apiece as the Clippers won their third straight game — their first home contest after an eight-game road trip.

Chris Paul added 10 points and 11 assists for the Clippers, who face their cross-town rival Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday before the All-Star break.

Chandler Parsons scored 17 points for the Rockets, who got 14 points each from Jeremy Lin and James Anderson.

Harden, who hurt his ankle on Tuesday in a 116-107 victory at Golden State, did not play after feeling soreness in the warm-up.

“Obviously we got out to a nice start,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. “It was a big first quarter for us. I thought that we jumped on them early.

“Chauncey hit some great shots,” he said of Billups.

“Caron really got us off to a good start and did a good job defensively which was good to see,” Del Negro added of Butler, who made 7-of-9 from the field in the first quarter including 3-of-3 from three-point range.

“We didn’t come out ready to play,” said Rockets coach Kevin McHale. “We had no pressure on the ball whatsoever… we had no presence defensively. We were really bad.”

The Rockets held the Clippers to just 23 points in the second quarter, but could not get the deficit below double digits.

Houston outscored Los Angeles 23-19 in the third, but were unable to mount the sustained run that they needed.

“We had way too many turnovers in the second half,” said Del Negro, who was disappointed in the performance of his reserves.

“That’s why they kept making runs at us (but) we did enough in the second half to make sure we got the win.”

Lin, who had one wrist taped after a spill under the basket during the frantic first quarter, said the Rockets just did not do enough defensively in the first period.

“They were on fire and we didn’t do a good job of making it difficult,” he said. “We just didn’t make it uncomfortable for them.”

The Rockets do not play again until after this weekend’s All-Star break. The All-Star Game will be held at their arena in Houston on Sunday.

The Rockets will return to action with another tough Western Conference match-up against Oklahoma City next Wednesday.

The Clippers will be hoping to go into the All-Star break on a high note as they take on the erratic Lakers, who are battling to get into playoff contention as mid-season approaches.

“We’re going to be ready to compete,” Del Negro said.

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