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Clippers vs. Oklahoma City - Game Preview

2008/2009 NBA Regular Season
Staples Center
April 15th, 2009, 7:30 PM
No local TV, 710 AM
Probable starters:
Baron Davis
PG Russell Westbrook
Eric Gordon
SG Kyle Weaver
Fred Jones
SF Kevin Durant
Zach Randolph
PF Jeff Green
Marcus Camby
C Nenad Krstic

The Back Story:

  • November 19, 2008 in OKC - Clippers 108 - Oklahoma City 88   box score   recap
  • December 16, 2008 in OKC - Clippers 98 - Oklahoma City 88   box score   recap
  • January 23, 2009 in LA - Clippers 107 - Oklahoma City 104   box score   recap

The Big Picture:

81 games.  19 wins, 62 losses.  Sixty-two losses in 5 and a half months.  That's a lot of losing.  But at least it will be over tonight.  As it happens, the Clippers are playing the team against whom they've won more games than any other.  The Clippers are 3-0 against the Thunder this season, with two of the wins coming when it seemed they were incapable of beating anyone (early in the season when they were 1-9 and then in January when they were so shorthanded that Cheikh Samb played a key role).  As it happens, the Clippers of course would rather not win this game.  Usually the question of lottery odds is more hypothetical - who knows if one loss here or there changes your position.  But with LA currently tied with the Wizards for the second worst record in the NBA, a loss tonight is worth exactly 21.5 ping pong balls (or rather 21.5 winning combinations out of 1000, or an additional 2.15 percent odds of winning).  Second worst record gets 199 combos, third worst gets 156, and if they tie they split the difference.  So regardless of what the Wizards do, a loss helps the Clippers chances.  The Wizards, by the way, are playing Boston, so I think we can expect a loss on that side - so the best the Clippers can really hope for in the lottery is tied for second worst.  As for the game, it seems Zach Randolph is unlikely to play because of a mild concussion (anyone know when/how that happened?) and of course all of the small forwards have long since shut it down.  So this game, like so many others this season, will be played by a short-handed Clippers team.  With no true threes healthy, a combination of Fred Jones, Eric Gordon and maybe Alex Acker will try to contend with the 6'10" Kevin Durant.  Good luck with that.

The Antagonist:

A lot of pundits are picking the Thunder as a team of the future.  We'll see.  Durant is great, no question about that.  But he's going to need help.  I've never been a huge fan of Jeff Green, and I'm not entirely sold on Russell Westbrook yet either.  And while I think Sam Presti has done a great job as GM, luck plays a big part, and he got really unlucky with the upcoming draft.  Those extra first rounders he has stockpiled may not amount to much in this crap shoot of a draft.  Getting extra picks from Denver and San Antonio late in the first round of this draft is like having extra second round picks in a decent draft - except these guys are going to get guaranteed contracts.  I think the Shaun Livingston signing a couple weeks ago was a shrewd move, as was picking up Nenad Krstic.  These are the kinds of moves that have made the team significantly more respectable, and if they keep making good decisions, then they could be good in the future.  But it remains to be seen if any big name free agents want to play in Oklahoma.

The Subplots:

  • Gordon vs. Durant, Round 2.  The last time these teams met, Eric Gordon scored a career-high and Clipper rookie record 41 points, while Kevin Durant went for 46.  Hopefully they can bring some of that same excitement tonight for the fans on Fan Appreciation night.
  • Gordon vs. Westbrook.  For most of the season, Russell Westbrook has gotten more press than Eric Gordon in the sundry rookie rankings.  Westbrook gets more assists (owing to the simple fact that he plays point guard and has more opportunity) and is without a doubt a much better rebounder than Gordon.  They both play solid defense, especially for rookies.  But Gordon is a super-efficient scorer, while Westbrook is highly inefficient.  Gordon has passed Westbrook in points per game (16.0 to 15.3) in the last couple of weeks, but more importantly manages to score more while shooting significantly less (almost 2 fewer shots per game less).  This rookie class is heavy with guards, and Westbrook and Gordon may find themselves together on the All Rookie second team - but there's little question in my mind who I'd rather have. 
  • Livingston.  For the first time in almost 26 months, Shan Livingston will play basketball in Staples Center.  On his trip back to LA with Miami earlier in the season, he was on the inactive list.  But he's been playing since he got called up to OKC from D-League Tulsa, and I expect he'll get quite a few minutes tonight.  I actually like some things about a Westbrook-Livingston backcourt.  Livingston could be the pass first point guard on offense, Westbrook could be the slasher/penetrator.  Defensively, Westbrook could take the smaller, quicker opponent while Livingston could use his length on a high scoring wing.  Shooting might be an issue, but there are some things to really like about that backcourt.  There's little chance that Earl Watson or Chucky Atkins will be around next season, so Livingston has a real shot at least a number one back up role on this team, and an outside shot at starting.
  • Tonight's very special Guest Recapper: Charo Citizen Clipper Chuck.
  • Superstar for one game.  Livingston.  For old time sakes.
  • Movie Quote: 

    Amid the chaos of that day, when all I could hear was the thunder of gunshots, and all I could smell was the violence in the air, I look back and am amazed that my thoughts were so clear and true, that three words went through my mind endlessly, repeating themselves like a broken record: you're so cool, you're so cool, you're so cool. And sometimes Clarence asks me what I would have done if he had died, if that bullet had been two inches more to the left. To this, I always smile, as if I'm not going to satisfy him with a response. But I always do. I tell him of how I would want to die, but that the anguish and the want of death would fade like the stars at dawn, and that things would be much as they are now. Perhaps. Except maybe I wouldn't have named our son Elvis.

    Alabama - True Romance (1993).  Unlike say 'Blazers' or 'Lakers', there are lots of choices for movie quotes with the word 'Thunder'.  I thought this one was a good choice, partly because True Romance is a personal favorite, and partly because of the Quentin Tarantino discussion a couple weeks ago.  Tarantino wrote the screenplay for this one (though Tony Scott directed), and along with Reservoir Dogs and of course Pulp Fiction to me it forms his trilogy.  Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette (not to mention a stoned Brad Pitt and the rest of the amazing cast) are terrific in this movie.
  • Get the Thunder perspective at Welcome to Loud City.