Clippers Vs. Thunder - Game Preview - Griffin Returns to Oklahoma (and Perkins)

2011/2012 NBA Regular Season
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vs.
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26-19

34-12
Chesapeake Energy Center
March 21st, 2012, 5:00 PM
FSN West, KFWB 980 AM
Probable starters:
Chris Paul PG Wussell Restbwook
Nick Young SG Thabo Sefolosha
Caron Butler SF Kevin Durant
Blake Griffin PF Serge Ibaka
DeAndre Jordan C Kendrick Perkins

The Back Story:

The Big Picture:

When the Clippers and Thunder played back on January 30th, the Clippers led wire-to-wire in registering one of their biggest wins of the season. The game featured highlight play after highlight play, including one of the best Clipper highlights of the season when they hit four consecutive three pointers in less than a minute, and perhaps the greatest in game dunk in NBA history, when Blake Griffin eviscerated Kendrick Perkins. Unfortunately, the Clippers team from the last month or so bears little resemblance to the team that manhandled the best team in the Western conference that night. By my estimation, it's been over five weeks -- going back to the win in Charlotte on February 11 -- since the Clippers really looked good, since they were firing on all cylinders. Something has just been off since that time. Maybe it's the absence of Chauncey Billups -- but it seems like more than that to me. Caron Butler is a different player; DeAndre Jordan is less active; Mo Williams is inconsistent; even Blake Griffin is having trouble really getting going. The Clippers have been VERY fortunate that the other teams in the West are all almost as funky as they are -- the Clippers have lost just a single spot in the standings through a 7-10 malaise. Maybe that is telling us something -- maybe the depth of the West, coupled with the relentless post-lockout schedule, means that teams are going to struggle. At any rate, let's hope that the other teams don't figure it out before the Clippers do.

The Antagonist:

The Thunder are one of those very good Western Conference teams that's currently out of sorts. I mean, how else do you describe a team that was 29-7 at one point, but is 5-5 in their last 10? It's not even as if the schedule turned super difficult on them. The Clippers have played 13 games in March compared to just 11 for OKC, and 7 of their last 10 have been at home. So the Thunder are almost as funky right now as the Clippers. They've even lost half of their last six home games after starting out 16-1 in OKC. Of course, this is still a very talented and dangerous basketball team. Kevin Durant is second in the league in scoring, and may yet catch Kobe Bryant for his third straight scoring title. Wussell Restbwook is fifth in the NBA in scoring, and turning into a major star in his own right. James Harden is the leading candidate for the Sixth Man Award and Serge Ibaka is a force on defense, having blocked 10 shots on two different occasions this season. This team is loaded.

The Subplots

  • Running late. Sorry the preview is a little later than usual. It's tough to keep up with the pace of the games, and then the new Clips Nation Night thing came up as well and I had to jump on that.
  • Tonight's Special Guest Recapper. Citizen GhostRide.
  • The Questionable Blogger. Check out the great insights from today's Questionable Blogger, J.A. Sherman of Welcome to Loud City. My answers to his questions can be found over there of course.
  • Key Thunder Metrics:
    Pace: 93.3 (5th of 30 NBA teams)
    Off Rtg: 109.3 (1st of 30)
    Def Rtg: 103.1 (12th of 30)
  • Key Clippers Metrics:
    Pace: 89.1 (28th of 30)
    Off Rtg: 107.8 (5th of 30)
    Def Rtg: 105.8 (21st of 30)
    It should be high-scoring in theory ... but the Clippers don't actually seem to know how to score lately.
  • DVR Alert. The game is once again on Fox Sports West, not Prime Ticket. 5 PM tip on the West coast.
  • Homecomings. This is a homecoming of sorts for both Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. Griffin is Oklahoma born and raised, playing his high school ball in an OKC suburb and his college ball in Norman. Chris Paul was a Hornet his entire career before being traded to the Clippers -- and the Hornets played two seasons in OKC in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Those two seasons happened to be Paul's first two seasons in the league. Paul and the Hornets are a big reason OKC has an NBA franchise today, as the city had a very successful audition for the big time in those two seasons. Paul has an even bigger homecoming tomorrow night in the Big Easy, but both he and Griffin will definitely be pumped up to be in Oklahoma tonight. It will be interesting to see how the crowd welcomes them when the lineups are announced.
  • Derek Fisher? It's entirely possible that our old pal Derek Fisher could be a member of the Thunder by game time tonight as he's apparently in town finalizing a deal with OKC. He clears waivers at 6 PM ET, and the game starts two hours later. Odds that he's in uniform would seem pretty slim, but stranger things have happened.
  • Randy Foye. Foye went from starter to DNP-CD overnight when Nick Young entered the starting lineup. It's a little surprising, especially with Bobby Simmons not with the team right now and Ryan Gomes still not in the rotation. It's obviously a struggle to find minutes for six guards, and I think we agree that Eric Bledsoe needs some burn as well -- especially tonight against Restbwook. But if Young is the backup small forward, then that frees up some minutes as well. Regardless, it can't have been easy for Foye. For over a month now he's heard how the Clippers needed a shooting guard, watched them woo J.R. Smith, heard rumors about Jamal Crawford and Ray Allen, many of which involved him getting traded. Foye's a class act all the way, if not exactly the greatest two guard in the league, and you have to feel for him at this point.
  • Last meeting. I'm not sure the Clippers can play much better than they did in the last meeting with the Thunder. But then again, it's not as if the Thunder played poorly. James Harden struggled in one of his only starts of the season, but Durant and Restbwook were tremendous, combining for 47 points. That was back in the days when the Clippers could play mediocre defense -- and still win by double digits because the offense was in such a groove. Those days are long gone.
  • The century mark. The Clippers have been held to less than 100 points in seven straight games. Prior to that, they had scored 100 or more in half of their first 38 games -- never going more than three games without hitting triple digits. If "first to 100 wins" then the Clippers aren't giving themselves as good a chance to win lately.
  • Travel. The Clippers, on the sandwich game of a road B2B2B, got something of a break in that the Thunder are on a difficult B2B themselves. OKC lost in Utah last night as the Clippers were losing to Indiana. Actually, to be accurate, since Salt Lake City is in the Mountain Time zone and Indianapolis is in the East, the Thunder were losing two hours LATER than the Clippers. That may not seem significant, but when you're talking about the difference between 22 hours between games and 20 hours, when you've also got to travel and try to sleep some in there, it could be a big deal. (A B2B with travel going east, so that you're losing hours on the time change, is almost unheard of -- I don't think I've ever seen it in a non-lockout season.) The Clippers even have a shorter flight -- it's 862 miles from SLC to OKC, 689 from Indy.
  • OKC motivated. After losing last night in Utah, not to mention what happened to them in L.A. the last time they played the Clippers, you have to figure the Thunder are going to be hyper motivated for this game.
  • Perkins. After what happened to him in L.A., don't be surprised if Kendrick Perkins delivers a hard foul to Blake Griffin early in the game.
  • Restbwook. Wussell Restbwook used to struggle against the Clippers. He's had six games in his career where he's shot under 10% from the field in the game, and two of those have come against the Clippers, including a 1 for 12 nightmare last season. In the last meeting between the teams last season, he finally had the first 20 point game of his career against the LAC, and then he went for 31 earlier this year. So he seems to have gotten over his Clipper-phobia.
  • Defending Durant. Is the newest Clipper, Nick Young, actually the best suited to defending scorer extraordinaire Kevin Durant? Durant is simply too quick for Caron Butler, and Young is about as long as Butler is anyway.
  • Sixth man race. Earlier in the season, Mo Williams might have been in the discussion for Sixth Man of the Year, but Mo's efficiency has dropped way off, and it's now looking like a three player race: James Harden of the Thunder, and a couple of Sixers, Lou Williams and Thaddeus Young. Which basically means it will be Harden. He's on the best team in the West, Young and Williams will split some votes, and let's face it, Harden has been amazing. Taj Gibson of the Bulls will get some votes too, partly because the Bulls have been so good.
  • Mo. Speaking of Mo's drop off, looking at his splits, his January numbers were truly awesome. 53% shooting, 47% from three. I mean, we knew it couldn't last, but it would have been nice. He's at 43% and 39% for March, which is pretty much right on his career averages and a MAJOR improvement over February, so I guess we shouldn't be expecting much more than that.
  • Bigs. Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka probably aren't going to outscore Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, but they are going to make it very difficult for Griffin to score. The tandem gives Scott Brooks options on defense -- he can put the strength of Perkins on Griffin, or he can choose to go with the length of Ibaka. Of course Griffin has seemed to handle OKC fine so far in his career.
  • OKC's future. The future in Oklahoma City couldn't be brighter, except for one problem: money. This team is completely loaded, and it's also young. Eleven players on the roster are 27 or younger, and their best players (Durant, Westbrook, Harden, Ibaka) are all 22 or 23 (wow!). But Durant is already making a maximum salary, and Westbrook just signed his extension for a max contract that begins next season. Harden and Ibaka are next in line to receive big pay days, and it's unknown whether owner Clay Bennett will be willing or able to pay the luxury tax to keep this group together in small market Oklahoma City. If not, the window on this group will close after next season: Harden and Ibaka can become free agents in summer 2013.
  • Westbrook's deal. The new CBA contains a provision, commonly called the Derrick Rose Rule, whereby younger players become eligible for higher max contracts (up to 30% of the salary cap instead of 25%) by meeting certain criteria. One of those criterion is winning an MVP (Rose). Another is making two all NBA squads. Westbrook was second team All-NBA last season, and certainly has a good chance to be chosen again this season. If he is chosen, he would become eligible for the higher maximum. However, as far as I know, the extension he signed did not include any provisions to pay him more if he does -- if so, Westbrook didn't technically sign a max deal. Blake Griffin will likely be the next test case for the Rose Rule. The final criterion is to start in two All-Star games, which Griffin did this season and will likely do next season as well, before his extension kicks in. I can only assume that the Clippers will offer Griffin the true maximum contract for which he is eligible, with a provision to pay him 30% of the cap if he starts in the 2013 All-Star game.
  • Interesting approach. Over the years, many championship teams have had defensive specialists in their starting lineup. From Dennis Rodman to Bruce Bowen, teams have recognized the value of having a stopper on the court, without concerning themselves over a loss of offensive firepower. It can even be construed as positive to have a starter out there who doesn't require touches, who doesn't need the ball. OKC has taken this philosophy to an extreme. They have not one, not two, but three players in their starting lineup who are primarily defenders (Sefolosha, Perkins and Ibaka). Sure Sefolosha is making 53% of those corner threes he takes, and Ibaka will surprise you with his shooting touch, and Perkins ... well let's face it, Perkins is a terrible scorer. But it's clear these three are on the floor mostly to defend. They only take 14 shots per game between the three of them (half of those going to Ibaka) while Durant and Restbwook each take 19. This phenomenon explains the unbelievable usage rates for Durant and Restbwoook. Only nine players in the league have a usage over 30; Durant and Restbwook are two of them. Check out J.A. Sherman's take on this approach in the Q&A.
  • From the Urban Dictionary:

    thunder

    n. a male or female who is really attractive

    damn, did you see that girl walking in the mall, she was thunder
  • Get the Thunder perspective at Welcome to Loud City.
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