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Clippers vs. Thunder Game Preview: The Return of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari

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In addition to Clippers legend Chris Paul, two other recent Clippers make their first stop back in Staples Center following their abrupt departures this summer.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Oklahoma City Thunder Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Game Information

Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, California

When: 7:30 PM PT

How to Watch/Listen: Fox Sports Prime Ticket, AM 570

Projected Starting Lineups

Thunder: Chris PaulShai Gilgeous-AlexanderTerrance FergusonDanilo GallinariSteven Adams

Clippers: Patrick BeverleyKawhi LeonardPaul GeorgeMoe HarklessIvica Zubac

Injuries

Thunder: Andre Roberson Out (Knee), Hamidou Diallo Questionable (Knee)

Clippers: Kawhi Leonard Questionable (Knee), Patrick Beverley Questionable (Calf), Landry Shamet Out (Ankle)

The Big Picture

After struggling on the road last week, the Clippers put together the biggest win in franchise history Saturday night against the Hawks, winning 150-101. Even without Kawhi Leonard, Pat Beverley, and Landry Shamet, the Clippers found their mojo on both ends, with their sharpened defense leading to numerous opportunities in transition. Paul George has been astonishingly good, and with Rodney McGruder’s play ticking back up, the Clippers have a bevy of two-way wings even without Leonard’s services. Jerome Robinson and Terance Mann have stepped up as well, giving the Clippers a depth chart that runs over 10 deep. Even with their struggles on both ends of the court at times, the Clippers have top 10 rankings on offense and defense, and that’s with PG missing most of the season. They’re going to be just fine going forward.

The Antagonist

The Thunder are truly the bizarro Clippers, starring both the Clippers’ franchise point guards of yesteryear in Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in addition to Danilo Gallinari. Paul is not the player he was on the Clippers, but is still an effective floor general capable of big games, and will certainly be up for a game against his former squad. SGA, on the other hand, is on the ascent, and rather than looking like a future star, appears to be one right now. Shai is averaging over 20 points per game, shooting 40% from three (while taking over four per game), and pulling down nearly twice as many boards as he did last season. In short, he’s taken a massive leap, and while the Clippers would of course make their deal for George every time, it’s fascinating to think how that might look in a couple years if Shai continues on his current trajectory. The rest of the Thunder, unfortunately, are far less interesting. Gallo is great, as always, and Adams is good for a bunch of rebounds and bone-setting screens, but the Thunder’s bench is quite bad, and they have very little upside on the rest of their roster outside rookie Darius Bazley. In short, they’re a semi-dangerous team that has had some good wins this season, but are low on talent when compared to the stacked Clippers.

Notes

Kawhi’s Status: Doc said after Saturday’s game that Kawhi and PG would “most likely” play together for the first time on Monday. While that’s certainly no guarantee, all the indications are that the knee contusion which has kept Kawhi out the past two games is nothing to worry about. If he plays on Monday, Clippers fans will finally get their first chance to see their future playing together, ironically enough against the team that holds much of the Clippers’ past. Hopefully Kawhi is able to give it a go, because George’s return has only whetted fans’ appetite for both superstars playing at the same time.

Beverley vs. CP: Hopefully Pat plays as well, because it’s always highly entertaining to watch him battle Chris Paul. The two have had a rivalry for years, going back to their days on the Rockets and Clippers respectively, and are similar types of players in terms of their intensity and desire to win. Pat has missed the past two games with calf soreness, and it’s possible he misses this one as well, but it would be a shame.

Bench Advantage: As mentioned above, the Thunder’s bench is not great. Dennis Schroder is good for a big game every now and then, but his defense is rough and he’s not an efficient scorer. Outside of that, they mostly rely on athleticism rather than skill. As long as the Clippers can keep their turnovers down and make sure that athleticism doesn’t get unleashed on the open court, they should be able to shut down the Thunder’s offense. Nerlens Noel is a strong defender patrolling the paint, but the rest of the Thunder’s reserves are not great defenders either, so Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell should be able to feast. If the Clippers win big, it will probably be because of their bench.

Shai and Gallo Return: The Clippers will have tribute videos for both SGA and Gallo, and the duo will assuredly receive standing ovations for their contributions to the Clippers’ awe-inspiring 2019 campaign. Shai, in particular, still holds a place in the hearts of many Clippers’ fans, and it will be weird to see him playing against the Clippers, even though he was only on the Clips for a single season. Both guys were great Clippers, and should receive nothing but love in their return to the city of angels.

Stay tuned for the game thread later this evening, and look out for updates on the status of Kawhi and Beverley.