The Back Story:
- November 11th, 2009 in LA - Oklahoma City 83 - Clippers 79 box score recap
- November 15th, 2009 in OKC - box score recap 101 - Oklahoma City 93
The Big Picture:
The Clippers got a solid win over the Jazz to open their brief homestand on Monday - and turned around and got humiliated by the Suns on Wednesday. And now they have to face another of the Western Conference's hottest teams, the Thunder. The good news, I hope, is that there's no long term psychological issues with the Thunder. Phoenix definitely has LAC's number right now and the Clippers have frequently been terrible against the Suns. But there's not the same embarrassing history with OKC (although last April was certainly not pretty). The teams have split two meetings this season, each winning on the other's home court, but that was way back in November, and the Thunder are a much improved team now. As for the Clippers, well, they're a different team now, and it's hard to say if they're better or worse. To deal with the Thunder, they'll have to start with stopping Kevin Durant - Rasual Butler will draw that assignment, and it's not a terrible matchup for Sool Durant is a matchup nightmare for anyone, but Sool is very long with decent lateral quickness. Where Butler gets hurt is trying to defend against super strong threes like LeBron James and
Kevin Durant Carmelo Anthony. Basically, if the team has to face one of the three elite small forwards of the league, Durant is the lesser of evils, at least where Rasual Butler is concerned. As for other matchups, Baron Davis has definitely gotten the best of fellow Bruin Russell Westbrook in the first two meetings - Restbwook is a combined 6 for 28 in the two meetings. This will be the first time this season that Eric Gordon will face the Thunder, as the first two meetings occurred while he was out of the lineup. The Clippers' best offensive option should be in the post, where it would seem that Nenad Krstic will have his hands full with Chris Kaman, and Drew Gooden might also have an advantage over Jeff Green.
When last the Clippers met the Thunder, Oklahoma City's record was 5-4, and it seemed as if they were overachieving. They're 36-24 now, so what do you call that? There were a bunch of 'feel good' stories, particularly in the Western Conference early in the season. The Kings for a while, the Rockets, the Suns, then the Grizzlies. But the Kings reverted to form, the Rockets have come to earth, the Grizzlies have leveled off, and the Suns have been contenders for awhile, so it's hard to get too excited about them. But the Thunder? They're high on everyone's list of bandwagon teams to follow in the post season. Lots of people saw potential on this roster - no one saw this. Not a year removed from a 23 win season, two years from 20 wins. They're on a pace to win 49 - a 26 win improvement, without a major roster addition (rookie James Harden is fifth on the team in minutes per game). That's just unheard of. Sure, the Spurs had a major turnaround when they drafted Tim Duncan AND got David Robinson back from injury, and the Celtics did the same when they added Kevin Garnett AND Ray Allen. The Thunder? They just got a year older - and a lot better. Their core of Kevin Durant, Wussell Restbwook and Jeff Green had all of 5 years of NBA experience coming into the season - and I personally was never really sold on Green or Restbwook. Looks like I was wrong. Sure Durant is the key, but the other guys are doing something right.
- Apologies. I'm going to be honest with you citizens. I'm mailing this preview in (or at least there's a strong possibility). I got hooked on that Kaman 20wo30 thing, and didn't get to this until late. Now my back hurts and I'm tired, and I just don't see doing my best work here. It stinks, because the Thunder deserve better. They're one of the most fascinating stories of the entire season.
- Interim success story. The Thunder fired P.J. Carlesimo last November and replaced him with Scoot Brooks, getting his first head coaching opportunity. That is almost always a short term assignment. The fundamental problems that caused the coach to get fired (primarily, that the team sucked) don't really change, there's little chance in a mid-season turnover to implement your own system - basically, it's a temp job, the guy gets fired at the end of the season so a re-tread with head coaching experience can take the job, and the interim slides back down the bench somewhere else, waiting for another chance. Of course, now they've got 'Head coach' on their resume - along with a terrible winning percentage to go with it. Brooks is a massive exception to the usual script. It's of interest given the Clippers current situation
- Road win. It didn't seem like it at the time, but in retrospect the November win in Oklahoma City is easily the Clippers best road win of the season. This happens to be the last meeting between the teams - they only play three games this season.
- Restbwook. Wussell has never played well against the Clippers, for some reason - maybe it's because Milph can't pronounce his name. His career shooting percentage against LAC is 31%. Of course, he's not a high percentage shooter regardless, but he's better than 31%. Baron seems to get a little extra motivated against the UCLA guys. We'll see what happens here tonight.
- Gordon. On the flip side of Restbwook is his draft mate Gordon, who has feasted on the Thunder. As I mentioned, he missed both of the meetings earlier this season, which is too bad for the Clippers. He has made 30 of 49 career shots against the Thunder for 61%. When you add in his 10 threes, his effective field goal percentage is 71%. He owns his career high of 42, which is also the all time Clippers rookie scoring record, against the Thunder. Of course, Oklahoma City is a different defensive team this season than they were last, thanks in large part to the late season addition last year of Thabo Sefolosha. It will be the Swiss Mister trying to slow Gordon down tonight.
- The bench. Travis Outlaw and DeAndre Jordan were terrible against Phoenix on Wednesday. They're going to have to play better tonight for the Clippers to stay in the game when the starters sit down. It's possible the bench will get a boost from the return of Craig Smith as well, who may be ready to test his sore bicep tendon.
- 66 20wo30s and counting. The Clippers did everything they could to get Chris Kaman his first career 30 point game in the first meeting between these teams way back in December, getting him a career high 26 field goal attempts. Unfortunately, it also happened to be one of Chris' worst shooting nights of the season. The Thunder have one of the highest rated defenses in the league (4th in defensive efficiency to be precise) - so I don't think Kaman will be breaking his streak tonight.
From that fateful day when stinking bits of slime first crawled from the sea and shouted to the cold stars, "I am man.", our greatest dread has always been the knowledge of our mortality. But tonight, we shall hurl the gauntlet of science into the frightful face of death itself. Tonight, we shall ascend into the heavens. We shall mock the earthquake. We shall command the thunders, and penetrate into the very womb of impervious nature herself.
- Get the Thunder perspective at Welcome to Loud City.