Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City
When: 6:00 p.m.
How You Can Watch: FSPT
How You Can Listen: AM 570 LA Sports Radio
Projected Starting Lineups:
LA Clippers: Avery Bradley, Danilo Gallinari, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Marcin Gortat, Tobias Harris
Oklahoma City Thunder: Steven Adams, Terrance Ferguson, Paul George, Jerami Grant, Russell Westbrook
Clippers: Luc Mbah a Moute (Sore left knee) - OUT; Jerome Robinson (Strained right foot) – OUT; Lou Williams (Sore left hamstring) - OUT
Thunder: Andre Roberson (ruptured patellar tendon) is OUT.
The Big Picture:
The Clippers (17-11) are on an unfortunate skid, losing four of their last five games by an average of 23.8 points. They were without professional scorer Lou Williams for the last two losses, but Sweet Lou’s absence does not fully explain Los Angeles’ uninspired play on both ends of the floor.
Not to make excuses, but fatigue may be an issue at this point in the schedule. The Clippers have not played two games in a row at home since mid-November. Eleven of the last 15 games have been on the road, and there have been three back-to-back pairings.
After Saturday’s match up with the Thunder, with regard to which I am not optomistic, the Clippers return home for a three-game stint leading up to a pre-Christmas visit north to take on the Golden State Warriors. The Clippers then embark on a 16-game stretch that includes 12 match-ups at home and only two sets of consecutive games. Williams should be back from injury around this time, and hopefully, the Clips get their mojo back just as they enter the second half of the season.
The Thunder started off the season 0-4 but enter the weekend with a solid 17-10 record, putting them just above the Clippers at third place in the Western Conference standings. Saturday’s contest is the second of consecutive games for the Thunder. They lost to the Nuggets Friday night, 109-98, the third loss in five games played
Individually, Paul George has been spectacular for the Thunder this season, averaging 24.6 points on 43.8 percent shooting, 7.8 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 2.2 steals per game. Unsurprisingly, Russell Westbrook has also been excellent. Brodie is averaging nearly a triple double: 21.5 points,10.5 rebounds and 9.9 assists per game. Kiwi Steven Adams has also been solid. The big man is averaging a double-double: 16 points and 10 rebounds per game.
Struggling Offense Meets the League’s #1 Defense.
Oklahoma City boasts the NBA’s best defense. The Thunder have the best defensive rating in the league (102.2) and rank first in steals per game (10.4).
The Clippers have struggled on offense as of late, and are prone to turnovers. Inconsistent (or non-existent) contributions from role players Avery Bradley, Patrick Beverley and Marcin Gortat have taken a toll, and it does not help that reigning 6th man Sweet Lou Williams is currently injured. The Clippers need big performances from Tobias Harris and Danilo Gallinari, solid showings from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Montrezl Harrell, and at least one “step up” performance (Bradley? Beverley? Mike Scott? Tyrone Wallace?) to pull out a win against this defensive-minded Oklahoma City team.
Keys to a Clippers Win: REBOUND, Win the Transition Game, and Protect the Ball!
Offensive rebounding and transition points have been deciding factors for a number of the Clippers’ contests. The Thunder top the league in offensive rebounding (13.0) and rank second in second chance points (15.9). The Clippers simply have to find a way to keep OKC off the glass and control the pace of this game. Given the gaping hole the Clippers’ roster has in the paint, this will be a problem.
Shai is the Guy.
Rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has progressed nicely since joining the Clippers’ starting unit. The lengthy 20-year-old is averaging 10.7 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game this season, while shooting 48.3 percent from the field and 36.6 percent from three-point range. Gilgeous-Alexander has also shown defensive versatility, averaging nearly a steal and a block per game.
Doc has benched Shai late in a number of recent games in lieu of Avery Bradley, which has been both puzzling and frustrating for Clips fans. Is Doc being cautious not to exhaust the young gun early on in the season or just coaching badly? Either way, fans aren’t having it. We want to see more Shai, particularly at crunch time.
Interested in the Thunder’s perspective on this match up? Find it over at Welcome to Loud City.