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Clippers vs. Oklahoma City - Game Preview and Open Thread

2008/2009 NBA Regular Season

Staples Center
January 23rd, 2009, 7:30 PM
FSN Prime Ticket, 710 AM
Probable starters:
Mardy Collins PG Russell Westbrook
Eric Gordon SG Desmond Mason
Al Thornton SF Kevin Durant
Brian Skinner PF Jeff Green
DeAndre Jordan C Nick Collison

The Back Story:

  • November 19, 2008 in Oklahoma City: Clippers 108 - Thunder 88 Box Score Recap
  • December 16, 2008 in Oklahoma City: Clippers 98 - Thunder 88 Box Score Recap

The Big Picture:

The Clippers only have 9 wins this season, and two of them are against the Thunder. Of course, those wins both came when the Clippers had some semblance of a full roster. Although the Thunder is one of only two teams in the NBA with a worse record than the Clippers, at least they have the players who got them their 9 wins, which the Clippers do not. The betting line on this game has it as a toss up. That's just stupid. The Clippers should be the underdog in every game they ever play with this lineup, provided the other team is healthy. Having said that, I've been quite enjoying watching the youngsters play. Maybe the theme for this season should be making the most of opportunities. Eric Gordon went from third string to first string almost overnight after a trade and an injury, and he proceeded to score 20+ in his first two NBA starts. Mardy Collins has been significantly more effective as an emergency starter at the point than he was in limited minutes off the bench. DeAndre Jordan has averaged 15.5 points, 11 rebounds and 5 blocks in his two career starts, which happen to be the Clippers last two games. And Steve Novak is becoming a major threat off the bench in extended appearances off the bench.

The Antagonist:

The Thunder are tied for the worst record in the NBA, and are the only team behind the Clippers in the Western Conference, but that could change tonight. A win would move the Thunder into the double digit win club, leaving the Clippers mired at 9. OKC has won 4 of 6, by far their best stretch of the season, including wins over Utah and Detroit. So now you see why I think they should be favored in this game - that and the fact that the Clippers have over $50M in salary injured. The team will be well represented in the Rookie-Sophomore at All Star Weekend next month. Kevin Durant and Jeff Green are 1st and 3rd in scoring among second year players (Al Thornton is sandwiched between them), and point guard Russell Westbrook is beginning to get some Rookie of the Year buzz. Unfortunately for the Thunder, that's kind of the end of the good news. They've struggled all season to find someone to play the center or the other wing. Nenad Krstic's return from Europe could end up helping this team quite a bit.

The Subplots

  • Can the Clippers win this one? Sure, they can. But I don't think they will. They've got a legit shot, especially if Camby plays (see below). But nothing will come easy until they get a few more guns back.
  • Camby is questionable. According to Ramona Shelburne's blog, Camby had a full practice yesterday and may play tonight. I'd be very surprised if he doesn't, given his level of commitment this season. Now if only we can get some of those other guys back, we'll be in business.
    DeAndre Jordan. DJ has a long way to go with his fundamentals, but he sure can dunk. He gets blocks and rebounds based on sheer athleticism and activity, but he's neither a good defender nor a sound rebounder at this point. But the kid is definitely feeling good about now. He'll be sky high for this game. And the Thunder's starting 'bigs' are not quite so big as the Lakers. Nick Collison is really an undersized power forward playing center, and Jeff Green is a small forward playing power forward. DeAndre can dominate those guys from a strictly physical standpoint. Don't sleep on Collison though - I expect him to have a huge night on the offensive glass. He's a clever and persistent rebounder, and if DJ doesn't box him out, he'll kill the Clippers there.
    Steve Novak. After watching Steve Novak some at Marquette and in brief NBA appearances for Houston, I knew the guy could shoot. In fact, in his brief appearances earlier this season, I was surprised that he was missing shots. He was 1 for 8 from beyond the arc in the Toronto game, and most of those were really good looks. I was shocked, but it made me wonder if he wasn't really the great shooter I thought he was, and if maybe I'd just seen him on particular good days in the past. Well, since that Toronto game, he's made 22 of 42 threes. He's also shooting over 50% overall in those 11 games, which is no small accomplishment considering that almost all of his shots are long jumpers. Since the plays the Clippers run for him are designed to get him threes, he almost never takes anything other than a three, or a one step in two. The guy can shoot the ball.
    The Thunder backcourt. Russell Westbrook has made the adjustment to NBA point guard better than anyone expected, especially considering the fact that he didn't play much point at UCLA. He's a breathtaking athlete, and a great defender, but he's not much of a shooter. And starting for the Thunder at the 2 guard is Desmond Mason, perhaps the worst perimeter shooter in the NBA. Both Durant and Green can score on the perimeter, but with Westbrook and Mason (and Watson off the bench), you give them the jumper all day, and play them to drive.
  • Gordon versus Westbrook. Can someone tell me why Westbrook is now the second best rookie in the NBA according to David Thorpe, while Eric Gordon also moved up - from 15 to 14? Oh, I guess it's because Westbrook is averaging 17 points per game in January. (Gordon is averaging 20.) And of course, Westbrook is an outstanding defender (Gordon has 20 blocked shots on the season, Westbrook 9.) Westbrook has been great, but the simple fact is that Gordon has been great as well. Westbrook is coming off 30 points against the Warriors - but 3 games ago he scored 5 against the Pistons, so I'll give the consistency nod to Gordon. We'll see who does better in this game - Gordon will definitely defend Westbrook, but I don't know if the reverse will be true.
  • Superstar for one game. Let's go with Jeff Green. He's young enough that I think he still qualifies in this category, and if my reverse mojo is working, I just took out their second leading scorer. Never let it be said that I'm not doing my part for the team.
    Get the Thunder perspective at DailyThunder.