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Game Preview: Clippers Visit Thunder in Crucial Head-to-Head Match-Up

Will LAC have anything left after last night’s game in Houston?

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Atlanta Hawks Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

In the Western Conference playoff race, every game is important. That’s been the case for weeks and it isn’t going to change in the next month as the regular season winds down.

That being said, tonight’s game is especially big. The Clippers have been bumped back down into 9th place in the Western Conference, and a loss tonight would push them into 10th place, tied in the loss column with Denver but with one fewer win. A win keeps them tied in the loss column with Utah and San Antonio at 30, and knocks Oklahoma City down to 30 losses as well.

For the Thunder, it’s a prime opportunity to set a Western Conference foe back a notch. The Clippers are on the second night of a back-to-back after playing big minutes in a tight loss in Houston last night, and the Thunder have had two days of rest and are looking to extend their winning streak to five games. A win would help them hold on to the 4-seed and homecourt advantage—a loss puts them tied in the loss column with the 9th-place team in the conference. These high-stakes scenarios are a nightly occurrence for every team from 4-10 in the Western Conference, and with most of the pack winning regularly, it’s hard to make ground back up once it’s been lost.

The Thunder obviously faced high expectations this year as they added Paul George and Carmelo Anthony as supporting scorers around last year’s NBA MVP, Russell Westbrook. They struggled to click early in the season, and just as the team began to gel, stud defensive wing Andre Roberson went down for the season, causing the Thunder to struggle once again. OKC has rebounded a bit since adding Corey Brewer during buyout season—he’s moved into Roberson’s spot in the starting lineup as a defensive-minded wing—but he’s not as impactful as Roberson, and his 40% three-point shooting so far with the Thunder is fool’s gold (he’s at 28% for his career and was shooting under 19% with the Lakers this season before being bought out).

In theory, there are a lot of interesting wrinkles in tonight’s game: Steven Adams vs DeAndre Jordan down low, potential stretches of Sindarius Thornwell testing his mettle against Russell Westbrook (and the entire Clippers’ scheme to contain Russell), Austin Rivers continuing his nightly campaign to prove he’s the league’s preeminent superstar, etc.

In reality, this game likely comes down to two factors: health and fatigue. Oklahoma City could be severely shorthanded tonight, as Paul George (groin) and Steven Adams (hip) are both game-time decisions. Even one absence from that pair opens the door considerably for the Clippers. On the other hand, it’s easy to envision a tired Clippers group getting run out of the building tonight. L.A. doesn’t defend well enough to win sluggish, low-scoring games, and if they don’t have their legs underneath them, they won’t score enough to beat anybody. In the Clippers’ two recent back-to-backs, they struggled on the second night, narrowly edging the putrid Orlando Magic last Saturday and only producing 92 points of offense against the Houston Rockets on February 28th.