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Clippers at Oklahoma City - Game Preview and Open Thread

2008/2009 NBA Regular Season


Ford Center
December 16th, 2008, 5:00 PM
KTLA Channel 5
Probable starters:
Baron Davis PG Russell Westbrook
Eric Gordon SG Damien Wilkins
Al Thornton SF Kevin Durant
Zach Randolph PF Jeff Green
Marcus Camby C Johan Petro

The Big Picture:

The Clippers carry a modest two game winning streak, their first such streak of the season, into Oklahoma City, which happens to be the scene of LA's first road victory this season. So why am I so scared? This has all the makings of a trap game people. It may not matter. If Zach Randolph remains as hot as he has been, he may be able to carry the Clippers to victory all by himself. Before the Houston game, Baron Davis had scored 27 in three straight, but he was using a pretty high volume of shots to get there. Randolph on the other hand has been the picture of efficiency, shooting 51% as a Clippers (53% as a starter) and even making 8 of 19 three point attempts. Can he keep it up? Well, I don't really see Jeff Green as the guy to stop him, nor even Nick Collison for that matter. The Clippers' starters have been carrying the load, all of them scoring double figures in the two wins. Unfortunately the implication is that the bench has not done much. Indeed, the scoring off the bench has been anemic, but that may not be a show-stopper. If Mardy Collins and Mike Taylor (or Jason Hart) and Paul Davis can come in and hustle and play good defense, the team can probably still find enough offense from other sources - at least until Z-Bo cools down.

The Antagonist:

Why am I worried about this game? Well, the Thunder clearly are not very good. That goes without saying when you're talking about a team with a 2-23 record. They're on a pace for 6 or 7 wins on the season, which would set a new NBA record. (FYI, second half records for really bad teams are usually better than first half records - they are motivated NOT to set a record, and meanwhile they begin seeing opponents long since out of playoff contention who have no motivation to win. So the Thunder will likely pick up some ugly wins down the stretch to avoid the record books.) I don't actually know if the change happened exactly when Scottie Brooks took over, but the Thunder are now playing Jeff Green and Kevin Durant at the 4 and 3 instead of at the 3 and 2 - inserting Damien Wilkins into the starting lineup. They have also moved UCLA rookie Russell Westbrook into the starting lineup. Has it helped? Well, yes and no. They're 1-11 under Brooks, so that's not good. But, they've been much more competitive lately. They have seven losses in the Brooks era by 6 points or fewer, and have been within 10 in 9 straight. For a team with a minus 9.9 point differential on the season, it's a definite improvement. Plus they will no doubt be looking to avenge an embarrassing 20 point loss to the Clippers last month. So yeah, I'm a little worried.

The Subplots

  • Matchups. After several opponents in a row that looked like matchup nightmares (Orlando, Portland, Houston), the Thunder are significantly less intimidating. Still, they do present some issues. Marcus Camby gets to roam as much as he wants looking for blocked shots, so that helps. Z-Bo's going to have to work a little differently defending Jeff Green after pushing big centers around three games. And Durant is a one man mismatch. It's worth noting that Cat Mobley defended Durant in the first meeting, and had seven steals and probably 15 total deflections in the last game of his NBA career. Neither Al Thornton (not a great defender) nor Eric Gordon (giving away 6 or 7 inches) is likely to do as good a job as Cat. On the other end, I don't see Green or anyone else slowing down Zach. And Baron should have his way with any rookie, even the Pac-10 DPOY. And for all Durant's skills, he's a pretty terrible defender. Al Thornton could have a big game.
    Instead of the Thunder, they should have named them the donuts. Because there's a hole in the middle. The Sonic Thunders have spent three first round picks in 5 years on centers. And none of them can play a bit, it would seem. Robert Swift (who may have an excuse with all his injuries), Johan Petro and Mouhamed Sene are all 7 feet tall, and very little else. With all those draft picks tied up in 7 footers, do you know what the Thunder did last Thursday? They called up a 7 footer from the D-League.
  • Could this be Scott Brooks last game? Keep an eye out after this game if the Thunder loses - P.J. Carlesimo was fired when they were 1-12, directly after a loss to the Clippers. If the Thunder lose, they'll be 1-12 under Brooks after a loss to the Clippers. Spooky.
    Too many threes. When the Sonics were rebuilding in the 2007 draft, they were lucky enough to come up with the second overall pick in the lottery. They then got Boston's fifth pick in the Ray Allen trade. And Kevin Durant and Jeff Green both seem like keepers. One problem. They play the same position. That's why P.J. tried Durant at shooting guard - but he's a small forward. And now they're starting Green at power forward - but he's a small forward. I think this is where they need to end up - with Green and Durant at the 4 and 3. And I'm a believer in getting your best players on the court, so they certainly need to start them. But it's a lot easier to 'go small' (like the 2006 Suns) or 'go big' (like the Lakers) when you've got the top level talent to do it. When you stink, having guys play out of position just makes you stink more. In case you're wondering, they didn't have any obvious alternatives last June. Durant was a no-brainer, and after that it was a small forward heavy draft. Conley and Horford and Oden were gone - so it was pick a small forward (and Green was probably a more versatile choice than Julian Wright or Brandan Wright or Al Thornton), or stretch for Spencer Hawes or Acie Law.
  • Best. 6-17 Team. Ever. OK, this was clearly the best 4-17 team ever a few days ago. And then they were the best 5-17 team ever. And now they're the best 6-17 team ever. They need to win a few more games before their record gets anywhere close to their talent, if you ask me. This is a talented squad. Of course, that doesn't always matter.
    Superstar for one game. Russell Westbrook. The unlikely heros have frequently been point guards. Westbrook has been up and down, as rookies frequently are. He went for a career-high 30 five games ago - and then had 2 in their last game. In the first game against the Clippers, he looked great in the first half, and lost in the second.
    Get the Thunder perspective at Thunderworld.