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Clippers-Thunder preview: Visiting the West champs

The Clippers are 8-2 and riding a six game winning streak. It's almost too much to expect a win tonight on national TV against the Thunder. But we'll ask for it anyway.

2012/2013 NBA Regular Season

November 21st, 2012, 5:30 PM
Chesapeake Energy Arena
Prime Ticket, ESPN, KFWB 980 AM
Clippers Tickets
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Russell Westbrook
Willie Green SG Thabo Sefolosha
Caron Butler SF Kevin Durant
Blake Griffin PF Serge Ibaka
DeAndre Jordan C Kendrick Perkins
Advanced Stats through Nov. 20
93.6 (7th of 30) Pace 92.9 (9th of 30)
108.5 (6th of 30) ORtg 109.5 (3rd of 30)
99.0 (3rd of 30) DRtg 102.5 (12th of 30)
Caron Butler (strained shoulder) GTD
Chauncey Billups (Achilles surgery) out
Trey Thompkins (knee) out
Grant Hill (knee) out

The Back Story:

First meeting of the season. The Clippers won the season series last year, three games to one.

The Big Picture:

The Clippers are tied for the best record in the very tough Western Conference and are riding a six game winning streak, which ties their longest in 21 seasons. They've beaten all the other perceived West contenders already this season -- the Spurs, Lakers and Grizzlies -- except for one. Tonight in Oklahoma City they face the defending Western Conference champion Thunder, and a seventh straight win is almost too much to ask for. In a way, the Clippers have nothing to lose tonight -- if the Thunder win, it's fine because losing on the road against good teams is pretty much expected. But if they win? That would constitute a dream start beyond imagining. Road wins over the Spurs, Lakers and Thunder (putting them in the drivers seat to win those season series)? In November? It would be too good to be true. The Clippers have played great basketball this season, but I expect them to lose this game, simply because it's really difficult to stay at that high level indefinitely, especially on the road. If they're playing without their top two small forwards (Caron Butler is a game time decision with a shoulder strain) it will be that much more difficult, especially considering the small forward the other guys have.

The Antagonist:

The Thunder and the Lakers were the prohibitive favorites in the Western Conference until the week before the season started. Then Oklahoma City traded away Sixth Man Award winner James Harden and the Lakers had an early season meltdown and fired their coach, and suddenly the conference is wide open with the Clippers and Grizzlies playing the best basketball over the first three weeks and the Spurs always looming. That's five teams who could make a legitimate case for winning the conference this season -- at least one of them will in fact be eliminated in the first round! The funny thing is, Harden's replacement in OKC, Kevin Martin, is playing like a Sixth Man candidate himself (at least on offense) but there's still a lot of people who think the Thunder are not the same team that faced Miami in the NBA Finals in June. It didn't help that they stood pat on the rest of their roster -- they get Eric Maynor back from injury, but their only other addition is Hasheem Thabeet (really?) and some rookies who won't play much this season. When you look at guys like Ronny Turiaf and Matt Barnes that the Clippers picked up for the minimum, you wonder if the Thunder could not have helped themselves more. But Sam Presti seems like he knows what he's doing -- at least he did until he traded Harden. The good news for the Thunder is that Kevin Durant has been an absolute monster in the first three weeks, rebounding like a power forward and passing like a point guard. The bad news is that Wussell Restbrook's shooting, never his strong suit, has been even more suspect so far.

The Subplots

  • Video Preview. J.A. Sherman of the Thunder blog Welcome to Loud City joined Lucas Hann in a Google Hangout to discuss this very important Western Conference matchup. Check it out (spoiler alert, Lucas got a hair cut).
  • Comparison of key metrics. This is a matchup of two of the best offensive teams in the league, but so far the Clippers defense has been quite a bit better.
  • Durant's all around game. Kevin Durant has led the NBA in scoring for three straight seasons and when all is said and done he'll probably do it again. But he's making major strides in the rest of his game as well. Through 11 games this season, his scoring is down, but his rebounding and assists are both at career highs. He's averaging over 10 rebounds per game on the season and had the first triple double of his career Sunday night. Could he wind up as a 20/10 guy?
  • Offseason moves. The Clippers totally revamped their bench in the offseason which has paid huge dividends early in the season as they've proven to have one of the best second units in the NBA. The Thunder traded away the Sixth Man Award winner and signed Hasheem Thabeet. You tell me which team had a better offseason.
  • Depth. The Clippers have 11 healthy bodies (assuming Butler can play) and have been playing all 11 of them. The Thunder play a nine man rotation, and that counts Thabeet who they'd probably prefer not to have out there. It doesn't matter much in any single game, but the Clippers depth will definitely benefit them over the course of the season, while Durant and Restbwook and Ibaka are probably going to have to play huge minutes all year.
  • Maynor. The good news for the Thunder is that they have their backup point guard, Eric Maynor, back this season. They lost Maynor after just nine games last season with a torn ACL. He's a terrific pass-first point guard, the perfect change of page from Restbwook, and the Thunder clearly suffered last season without a competent backup at the one. (It was so bad that Derek Fisher was actually useful to them.)
  • A tale of two schedules. Seven of the Clippers first ten games have come against teams that made the playoffs last season. In contrast, only four of OKC's first 11 games have come against playoff teams. The Clippers are 7-0 against playoff teams, the Thunder are 1-3. Bottom line is, OKC has been beating up on weak teams to build their 8-3 record so far. There best win on the season to date is against the Derrick Rose-less Chicago Bulls -- a win over the Clippers tonight would be huge for them, but a loss would really raise eyebrows.
  • Butler. If Caron Butler is unable to play, the Clippers terrific depth will be sorely tested tonight. Playing against Kevin Durant, having only one healthy small forward is less than ideal. In fact, Butler is probably a less significant loss in this game than Grant Hill, who would for my money be the Clippers best option to defend Durant. But Hill is definitely out, and if Butler can't go, that leaves Matt Barnes as the Clippers best and practically only option on KD. Jamal Crawford? Willie Green? Blake Griffin? Lamar Odom? Durant tortures anyone else the Clippers throw at him. So if Butler is out, then let's hope that Barnes is ready for a long night. Oh, and Joe Johnson and Gerald Wallace are next up for the Clippers.
  • Harden and Martin. The strange thing about everyone discounting the Thunder in the wake of the James Harden trade is that Kevin Martin has played great. His 22.8 PER is better than Harden's and if it weren't for one Jamal Crawford he'd be the leading candidate for the Sixth Man Award in the early going. Martin is a terrific scorer and a good fit for the Thunder on offense with his ability to spread the floor and also get to the line. He's not nearly the defender that Harden is (he's pretty bad in fact) but he's a big time scorer and will help the Thunder win a lot of games.
  • Last season. The Clippers beat the Thunder three of four last season, including two impressive wins in L.A. and one squeaker in OKC. It seemed like the Clippers matched up well with the Western Conference champs, and that was before the major upgrades to the Clippers bench or the loss of Harden.
  • Restbwook. Wussell Restbwook has had some of the worst games of his career against the Clippers. He's 6-19 in his career against the Clippers and has suffered through games of 1-11, 1-12, 3-14, 4-16 and 3-11. On his career he shoots 43% from the field overall -- but he's just 34% against the Clippers, by far his worst shooting percentage against any opponent.
  • All the best for the Clippers. With their game against the Thunder tonight, the Clippers will have now played against seven of the eight best teams from the regular season last year, including all of the many teams considered contenders in the West. To this point, they've beaten them all.
  • Winning streak. The Clippers six game winning streak ties their longest in 21 seasons. It sure feels like that mark is going to fall at some point this season, even if it doesn't happen tonight. After all, the Clippers have put together this streak against a series of very tough opponents. They have some softer stretches in the schedule later in the season.
  • Big man matchups. It will be interesting to see how the Thunder choose to defend the Clipper bigs. Ibaka likes to roam and pick up weak side blocks, Perkins is the better on ball defender. So will they put Perk on Griffin? In years past, Ibaka might have been allowed to ignore Jordan; this season, Jordan might choose to go right at Ibaka.
  • Matchup chess. It's always interesting to see how coaches choose to match up, but this one could be particularly fascinating. According to, Durant has played about 15% of his minutes at power forward this season, and OKC's best five man lineup may be Restbwook, Sefolosha, Martin, Durant and Ibaka. With Butler or Hill, it's hard to know how the Clippers would counter that -- it might leave either Griffin or Odom trying to contend with Durant, which could get ugly. If Butler can't go, Barnes might have to play every minute that Durant plays. On the other hand, when Crawford is on the floor for the Clippers, Scott Brooks will have a tough decision. Sefolosha is the best choice on both Crawford and on Paul, but he can't defend two of them at once. And if Brooks does go small, it will allow Vinny Del Negro the luxury of playing Paul, Crawford and Eric Bledsoe together -- a terrifying perimeter trio that no team in the league can contend with.
  • On the road. The Clippers are now 3-0 on the road this season with wins in some traditionally difficult venues: against the Lakers, the Blazers and the Spurs. A win in Oklahoma City may be too much to ask but it would be an incredible start to the season on the road.
  • Get the Thunder perspective at Welcome to Loud City.
  • Lyrical reference:

    Arctic Monkeys -- She's Thunderstorms

    She's thunderstorms
    Lying on her front
    Up against the wall
    She's thunderstorms


    I love the Arctic Monkeys sound, but I find it to be a bit repetitive -- all the songs seem more or less the same. I must admit, I haven't gotten the new album pretty much for this reason; I'm not sure how many Arctic Monkeys albums any single person needs. I've got a couple... seems like enough.