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Clippers-Thunder Preview: Slowing a Freight Train

The Clippers, still without Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford, and with a hobbled Chris Paul, must try to stop the hottest player in the NBA right now in Russell Westbrook.

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

2014/2015 NBA Regular Season

March 11, 2015, 5:00 PM
Chesapeake Energy Arena
ESPN, Prime Ticket, KFWB 980 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Win-Loss Breakdown
14-11 East 15-10
27-12 West 20-18
24-9 Home 20-9
17-14 Road 15-19
17-19 .500+ 13-21
24-4 .500- 22-7
7-3 L10 7-3
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Russell Westbrook
J.J. Redick SG Andre Roberson
Matt Barnes SF Kyle Singler
Spencer Hawes PF Serge Ibaka
DeAndre Jordan C Enes Kanter
Advanced Stats
96.7 (11th of 30) Pace 97.8 (7th of 30)
109.3 (1st of 30) ORtg 103.2 (14th of 30)
103.0 (15th of 30) DRtg 101.1 (11th of 30)
Jamal Crawford (Calf) out
Kevin Durant (foot) out
Blake Griffin (Elbow) out

Steve Novak (appendectomy) out

The Back Story (The Season Series is tied 1-1):

Date Venue Final Recap Box Score
2/8/2015 Oklahoma City Thunder 131-Clippers 108 here here
10/30/2014 Los Angeles Clippers 93- Thunder 90 here here

The Big Picture:

The Clippers are keeping up in the tough Western Conference, but things just keep getting tougher and tougher. Chris Paul gritted through some knee pain to help beat the Timberwolves, and while his passing was as superb as ever, he was limited as a scorer, only putting up a few points. He will need to be better against the Thunder, who are a far better opponent than the Timberwolves. Meanwhile, Jamal Crawford and Blake Griffin remain out, and will probably be out until Sunday at the earliest. At this point, it is clear that Doc just wants them healthy for the stretch run and playoffs, and is wiling to forgo a couple games in early March if they aren't 100%.

The Antagonist:

In this game, Russell Westbrook is the antagonist. The Thunder have other impactful players, but there is not a single player in the NBA playing like Westbrook right now. With no Kevin Durant, Westbrook has taken complete control of the Thunder's offense, and has 5 triple doubles in his last 6 games, scoring 40+ points in three of them. He is sporting a usage rate of 54% (!) which is just ridiculous. He might be taking 30 shots a game, but making 43% of them and getting to the line an additional 15+ times is actually quite efficient. His passing isn't pretty most of the time, but he gets the job done, and is great in transition and dishing after driving. This is helped by the Thunder's bevy of shooters: DJ Augustin, Kyle Singler, and Anthony Morrow are all deadly from outside. Ibaka patrols the paint and is in the shortlist of Defensive Player of the Year candidates, while Enes Kanter is a great complement on the other end as a force in the post. This is a tough opponent that is truly feeling good right now, despite the absence of Durant.

The Subplots

  • Comparison of key metrics. Going by efficiency numbers, Clippers are better than the Thunder on both sides of the ball, and on the whole this year that is probably true. However, with no Griffin or Crawford and a slowed Chris Paul, the Clippers are a far weaker force on the offensive end, and Paul's defense will need to be in tip top shape to slow Westbrook at all. The Thunder aren't a great team without Durant, but they are solid enough defensively, they have shooters who can get hot, and they have a force of nature.
  • Last meeting. When these teams last met on February 8th in Oklahoma City, the Clippers were absolutely slaughtered by the Thunder, giving up an incredible 131 points. With no Durant in this game, who is a complete matchup nightmare for the Clippers, the game should be much closer.
  • Westbrook. Love or hate his off court demeanor and fashion, or his on-court pounding of chests and going crazy, Westbrook has been my favorite player to watch in the NBA this year. While I am too young to have seen Michael Jordan or a young Kobe/Vince/TMac, who were all athletic freaks, I can't imagine of them being more athletic than Westbrook. He can get to the basket on almost any possession, and is willing to attack over and over again. He skies for rebounds that no guard should ever get, and makes incredible plays on the defensive end (though his gambles can cost him badly at times). His play this past month just doesn't seem human.
  • The MVP Race: Westbrook has gained ground in the MVP race over the past couple weeks, but his missing of games still costs him. Chris Paul should in all rights be a solid candidate, but LeBron, Harden, and Curry are all well favored over him, as are Westbrook and Anthony Davis. It would be a shame for CP3 to not even make top 5, since he is a very deserving player. His stats with Griffin out aren't as eye popping as Westbrook's, but he is around 19/11 on excellent efficiency and low turnovers. He is absolutely having an MVP caliber season.
  • No Durant: The Clippers know all about missing star players, but the Thunder have been without last year's MVP for most of the season. Durant is a particular issue for the Clippers, who lack any wing stopper or even a player with the size and quickness to bother Durant much at all. His absence is thus even more beneficial to the Clippers than most teams, who at least have one guy who can somewhat check KD.
  • OKC roster additions. The Thunder made a couple of moves since the last time the Clippers played them in February, sending out Reggie Jackson and Kendrick Perkins while bringing in DJ Augustin, Kyle Singler, and Enes Kanter. All three players have helped out OKC a fair amount, with Kanter providing offense in the post while the other two space the floor for Westbrook. None of them are particularly good defenders, and Kanter is in fact tied to Serge Ibaka so he won't get torched, only playing a handful of minutes without Serge on the floor.
  • Connections. Blake Griffin was born and raised in Oklahoma near Oklahoma City and played his college ball at OU in Norman. Thunder coach Scoot Brooks was on the Clippers for about a month in January 1999, though he never got into a game. Chris Paul played his first two seasons in Oklahoma City while the Hornets were displaced from New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Steve Novak played for the Clippers in 2008 and 2009. Spencer Hawes played with Dion Waiters on the Cavs for a couple months last year. Anthony Morrow played with Jamal Crawford on the Warriors in 2008.
  • Get the OKC perspective at Welcome to Loud City.