Clippers Vs. Thunder - Game Preview - To Win It All, You Have to Beat the Best

Mar, 21, 2012; Oklahoma City OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant (35) drives to the basket against Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin (32) during the second quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena Mandatory Credit: Richard Rowe-US PRESSWIRE

2011/2012 NBA Regular Season
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vs.
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34-23

42-15
Chesapeake Energy Arena
April 11th, 2012, 5:00 PM
FSN Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM
Probable starters:
Chris Paul PG Wussell Restbwook
Randy Foye SG Thabo Sefolosha
Caron Butler SF Kevin Durant
Blake Griffin PF Serge Ibaka
DeAndre Jordan C Kendrick Perkins

The Back Story:

The Big Picture:

Is it too much to ask for a close game between these teams? In two games this season, one in L.A. won by the Clippers and one in OKC won by the Thunder, the lead has yet to be in single digits in the second half. The last six times the teams have met the home team has won, but only twice has the final margin been less than 10. These are exciting teams and evidently relatively evenly matched teams given the 3-3 record in the Blake Griffin era -- let's have an exciting game. This is the toughest game left on the Clippers schedule on paper, and it is a tall order to win in Oklahoma City where the Thunder are a daunting 24-5. I'd settle for a solid effort and sharp execution from the Clippers, who were far from sharp in losing to the Grizzlies on Monday. Whereas a loss in Oklahoma City may well be understandable, it will be nonetheless very detrimental to the Clippers in the playoff race. Memphis will be playing simultaneously against the Suns, and a Memphis win coupled with a Clipper defeat will drop the Clippers down to fifth in the conference. Not to mention that the Lakers are playing in San Antonio, a likely loss which would present an opportunity to gain ground in the Pacific Division. When the Clippers played here three weeks ago, no one but Randy Foye had a decent game. They'll need everyone, but especially Chris Paul, to step up in this game to have a chance.

The Antagonist:

The Thunder are suddenly in a dogfight for the top spot in the Western Conference. After leading the conference for months, a mini-slump in the form of a three game losing streak last week (their only consecutive losses of the season) coupled with 11 straight Spurs wins put San Antonio into first place briefly. OKC is back on top of the conference -- kind of. The Spurs and Thunder are tied in the loss column, and the Spurs have already won the season series with no more games left between the teams. Which means that although San Antonio is mathematically a game behind in the standings at present, the Spurs control their own destiny for finishing first, while the Thunder do not. At any rate, OKC should not be lacking for motivation tonight -- with home court advantage through the Conference Finals on the line, every win matters.

The Subplots

  • Tonight's Special Guest Recapper. Citizen Ricekrispy10.
  • The Questionable Blogger. You asked a lot of questions, and JA Sherman from the Thunder blog Welcome to Loud City answered. You can also head over there to check out my answers to his questions.
  • Key Thunder Metrics:
    Pace: 92.9 (6th of 30 NBA Teams)
    Off Rtg: 109.8 (1st of 30)
    Def Rtg: 102.9 (9th of 30)
  • Key Clippers Metrics:
    Pace: 89.2 (27th of 30)
    Off Rtg: 108.1 (4th of 30)
    Def Rtg: 105.5 (18th of 30)
    The league's best offense against the league's fourth best offense -- a good old fashioned shoot out.
  • TV Update. The game was not originally scheduled to be televised, and neither ESPN.com nor the Clippers web site had the update last I checked, but the game will be on Prime Ticket tonight.
  • Shorter rotation. Monday night in Memphis, coach Vinny Del Negro tightened up his rotation, going just eight deep for what I believe to be the first time this season. I don't disagree with the impulse -- a big rotation of Griffin, Jordan and Kenyon Martin is fine with me, and Bobby Simmons wasn't doing a lot to justify a rotation spot. However, it would be nice if Nick Young would actually make a shot if he's going to get all the small forward minutes instead of Simmons. If Mo Williams is able to play (and he's supposedly been close for several games now), then the rotation will probably expand out to nine again.
  • Speaking of Williams. Mo is still listed as day-to-day. There's still little indication as to when he'll return, which makes me think it is unlikely we'll see him tonight.
  • Clipper shooters. The Clippers simply must make perimeter shots in order to win games. Monday night in Memphis, L.A.'s key perimeter players (Randy Foye, Caron Butler and Nick Young) combined to shoot 7 for 29 overall, 2 for 11 from three. There's just no way the Clippers can compete with those numbers. If those three (and Williams if he plays) can make shots tonight, then the Clippers have a chance against the Thunder. If not, forget it.
  • Bledsoe. Eric Bledsoe has been outstanding in recent games. He was the star of the home win over Sacramento, and he was on the floor during the Clippers' fourth quarter near-miss comeback against Memphis Monday. He is one of the few guards in the league with the athleticism to contend with Wussell Restbwook, who's even more freakish than Bledsoe. Bledsoe and Paul have been surprisingly effective on the floor together in recent games.
  • Defending Durant. Kevin Durant has averaged 34 points per game on 24-41 shooting in two games against the Clippers this season. And really, LAC has no good options for defending him. Caron Butler will draw the initial assignment, but he's been ineffective against him. After that? Maybe Nick Young will take a turn, but that doesn't seem promising. Bobby Simmons may need to re-enter the rotation to take a crack at defending Durant. Or maybe it will be Kenyon Martin. Of those options, Martin is probably the best bet. But none of them have much of a chance against Durant. It's worth noting that Simmons has not been an option in the first two meetings -- he had not yet joined the team when they played in January, and he had been briefly waived during the last game before being signed for the rest of the season.
  • Restbwook and Durant. There are five players in the league with more than 1000 field goal attempts this season. Restbwook and Durant are second and third in the league in both total field goal attempts and field goal attempts per game this season, behind only Kobe Bryant in each category. In the same number of games, Restbwook has 1107 attempts, Durant 1105. 57 games in, and they've taken almost the identical number of shots.
  • More Restbwook and Durant. Eight players in the NBA have a usage rate of 30% or higher. Restbwook at 33% is second only to Kobe Bryant, while Durant is sixth at a little less than 31%. Imagine being Kevin Durant and being the best scorer on the planet, but getting the second most touches on your own team.
  • Ironmen. One of the reasons for Oklahoma City's success of the last few seasons has been the health of their stars. Restbwook has never missed an NBA game -- and Durant has missed just four games in the past three seasons, none this year.
  • 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.
  • 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 and 19 in the two meetings this year. So he seems to have gotten over his Clipper-phobia.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • From the Urban Dictionary:

    thundar

    n. The new, better way to say thunder

    Thundar is the noise lighnang makes.
  • Get the Thunder perspective at Welcome to Loud City.

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