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Thursday night in the NBA

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The Rockets and the Thunder, the teams on either side of the Clippers in the standings, are featured in the TNT double header tonight.

Andrew Richardson-USA TODAY Spor

There are only three games in the NBA this evening. One of them barely matters -- Atlanta probably can't fall far enough to miss the playoffs in the East, but losing at home to the team with the worst record in the NBA would certainly be a step in the right direction. The other two feature the teams directly in front of and behind the Clippers in the Western Conference.

Houston at Chicago 4:00 PM TNT

Milwaukee at Atlanta 4:30 PM

LA Lakers at Oklahoma City 6:30 PM TNT

An absolutely brutal stretch continues for the Rockets, who passed their test last week with wins over Miami, Indiana and Portland, but stumbled in Oklahoma City on Tuesday. They're on a tough road trip that takes them to Chicago tonight and to Miami on Sunday. They really need this win or they could find themselves three back of the Clippers by Monday morning.

In the late game on TNT the Lakers are visiting the Thunder. The Lakers shocked OKC on Sunday in STAPLES Center, which is the last time LA played. Tonight I think we can expect a massacre perhaps on the order of what the Clippers did to the Lakers. I'll tell you this -- if OKC loses a second straight to the Lakers, they are in much more trouble than anyone previously thought.

After Houston's loss Tuesday and Portland's ongoing slide, the Clippers are alone in third place in the Western Conference for the first time this season. With their next six games against teams below .500, the Clippers have a real chance to create some separation between themselves and the teams that trail them, and possibly to even catch the Thunder, who have struggled recently. The next two weeks will be crucial.