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Clippers-Thunder Preview: Prepare for backups

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The Clippers are in Oklahoma City to take on the Thunder tonight, but CP3, D.J. and J.J. are all sitting out. Bring on the spares!

Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

2015-16 NBA Regular Season
vs
Oklahoma City Thunder (52-23)

Los Angeles Clippers (47-27)
March 31, 2016 — 6:30 PM PT
Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
TNT, Prime Ticket, KLAC 570 AM, KWKW 1330 AM
Win-Loss Breakdown ('15-'16)
52-23 Record 47-27
18-12 East 21-8
34-11 West 26-19
12-2 Division 7-6
30-9 Home 25-12
22-14 Road 22-15
16-17 .500+ 23-18
36-6 .500– 31-9
3-1 OT 4-1
8-2 L10 5-5
Projected Starters
Russell Westbrook PG Austin Rivers
Andre Roberson SG Jamal Crawford
Kevin Durant SF Wesley Johnson
Serge Ibaka PF Luc Richard Mbah a Moute
Steven Adams C Cole Aldrich
Efficiency Stats ('15-'16)
99.4 (8th) Pace 98.2 (13th)
109.8 (2nd) OffRtg 106.3 (6th)
102.6 (11th) DefRtg 101.4 (7th)
7.2 (3rd) NetRtg 4.9 (5th)
Injury Report

Blake Griffin (Suspension) Out

Paul Pierce (Ankle) Out

DeAndre Jordan (Rest) Out

Chris Paul (Rest) Out

J.J. Redick (Rest) Out

Doc Rivers has wisely decided to rest DeAndre Jordan, Chris Paul and J.J. Redick with the team having played last night, so we're likely headed for a heavy dosage of Austin Rivers, Cole Aldrich and Pablo Prigioni. FUN. We don't yet know if OKC will be resting anyone, but one would imagine they will since they have that No. 3 spot all but locked up. Instead of a traditional preview, Niels and I decided we'd make it a mini roundtable preview.

Over/under 20 shots for Jamal Crawford tonight?

Niels: That's a lot of shots, and I'm surprisingly taking the under.  I think Jamal is going to look to facilitate a bit more this game, and I think we will see some bad shots from just about everyone on the team.  So my prediction: Jamal will take bad shots, as will everyone else.

Taylor: Over! I want Jamal chucking like he's never chucked before. I want Austin taking as many step-back threes as he can muster. I want Pablo to pass on at least six wide open shots. I want Cole to take blind, wild hook shots like there's no tomorrow. This game will be awesome.

Assuming they don't make the Finals or win the title, can you see Kevin Durant leaving this summer?

Niels:  Not really.  As many people have pointed out, his best route is probably signing a 1 year contract with the Thunder.  It nets him more money in the long run and it allows him and Westbrook to potentially make their decisions together.  I think if the story is the same next year, then he is a goner, but until then, the Thunder are safe.

Taylor: Absolutely. It has to have become apparent to him by now that this core just doesn't have enough to get over the hump, so why keep wasting his time with it? If a better opportunity comes along, I bet he takes it.

Rank these three in terms of MVP candidacy: Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook

Niels:  Chris Paul, Westbrook,  Durant.  I'll start off by saying that I think Kevin Durant is the 2nd best player in the NBA this season, and he is a step ahead of Cp3 at this point in their careers.  That being said, Westbrook is just having an absurd season.   I mean come on, 23-10-8?  That's just insane.  So am I just being a homer with Cp3?  Maybe, but I think a lot of people are underselling his achievements this year.  He led a team starting Paul Pierce and Luc Mbah a Moute to the 4th seed in the West. Seriously, that's INCREDIBLE.  And while he is having a lot of help by Jordan and Redick, who are likely having the best years of their careers, a lot of that is because of the Point God.

Taylor: Ditto for me. CP3 has helped will the Clippers into a top-four seed, which is just about all you can ask for from the club without Blake Griffin for the entire second half. It's a shame that so many people still harp so much on Westbrook's shortcomings rather than embracing his strengths. He's a one-of-a-kind player at his position and is one of the most physically dominant point guards we've ever seen. Appreciate him, you guys.

Oh, and KD is pretty awesome, too.

Which team has the stronger bench?

Niels: I haven't exactly been confident in our bench this year.  It was a fun ride, and they are certainly better than last year, but they are just too volatile for my liking.  They have some games where they win us the game, and others where they just look like a trainwreck out there.  Maybe I'm being a bit harsh, but the Aldrich/Prigioni experiment really cooled off, Wes Johnson has lost his shooting touch, Rivers has been pretty meh on offense, and Crawford is the same as always.

On the other hand, the Thunder have I believe the 6th man of the year in Enes Kanter.  He's terrible defensively but he's a premiere offensive big man.  On top of that, Cameron Payne is a really solid prospect and I still think McGary can pan out.  Morrow has lost his ways a bit, but I think in the right system, he's a huge asset. Overall, I just like the players on the Thunder bench a bit more; not to mention, they have room to improve in the future.

Taylor: I don't trust OKC's bench at all, but on the other hand, I don't trust LAC's reserves, either. Kanter is the kind of offensive big that proves to be a handful, and he and Westbrook have developed a nice chemistry. I don't really know how the Clippers would plan to deal with him in a long series. That said, the Thunder also use Dion Waiters, and who knows what to make of that? He seems like the kind of guy that can completely torpedo your team's efforts once the playoffs roll around. I guess I'd take the Thunder bench?

If the Clippers and Thunder met in the playoffs, which team would you pick to win? (assuming full health for both sides)

Niels: Sorry guys, but I'm taking the Thunder.  It's hard to bet against Westbrook/Durant unless the other side of that is the Spurs or Golden State.  Westbrook is a tough matchup for Cp3, Durant is an impossible matchup for anyone, and I just think that Kanter will be more efficient and better than Jamal.  Ibaka also tends to give Griffin problems.

Taylor: Hell, I'll just take the Clippers. Perhaps it's the irrational optimism of getting Blake Griffin back that makes me wonder about the matchup, but the Thunder don't scare me a ton from a Clipper perspective. I just didn't really want us both picking the Thunder.