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Clippers vs. Thunder Preview and Game Thread: Paul George Returns to Oklahoma City

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The Clippers take on a feisty OKC team in Paul George’s first game back in Oklahoma City since getting traded to the Clips this summer.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Los Angeles Clippers Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Game Information

Where: Chesapeake Center, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

When: 4:00 PM PT

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

Projected Starting Lineups

Clippers: Patrick BeverleyLandry ShametPaul GeorgeMoe HarklessIvica Zubac

Thunder: Chris PaulShai Gilgeous-AlexanderTerrance FergusonDanilo GallinariSteven Adams

Injuries

Clippers: JaMychal Green Questionable (Tailbone), Kawhi Leonard Doubtful (Knee/Load Management)

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

The Big Picture

The Clippers have had some rough performances lately, mostly through failure to put together a complete game for 48 minutes, but turned in one of their best efforts of the season yesterday in San Antonio. They played hard, they played together, they moved the ball on offense, and they forced turnovers while staying in front of their man on defense. The Spurs aren’t great, but they’re not awful, and any win on the road is a good one in the NBA. Hopefully that victory gets the Clippers back on track – their schedule will start to lighten up in the new year, and they’ll need to take advantage of that if they’re to secure their spot as a top seed in the NBA postseason.

The Antagonist

The Thunder are, unsurprisingly, a rather solid team this season. At 14-14, they sit in the lower rungs of the Western Conference’s playoff picture, and have improved their play of late. Chris Paul remains a force even as he ages into his mid-30s while Danilo Gallinari is having another quietly fantastic season (only slightly worse than his All-NBA caliber campaign last year). Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has taken a step forward in his second season, Dennis Schroder has actually (and shockingly) been extremely good off the bench, and Steven Adams is a nice starting-level center. The Thunder’s bench outside of Schroder and Nerlens Noel is iffy, but when the Thunder play their three best guards together, they’re extremely good. The Thunder are not going anywhere.

Notes

Paul George Returns to OKC: Paul George was only in Oklahoma City for two seasons, but he’s likely to get a pretty vitriolic response tonight. George was hailed as a worthy sidekick to Russell Westbrook and the second superstar to get the Thunder back to contention, but those teams never panned out, and George’s decision to ask for a trade to the Clippers this summer effectively ended the Westbrook-era in OKC. George didn’t abandon a championship team or betray his homegrown franchise, but Thunder fans probably expected he would be there for a long time, especially after just signing an extension in the summer of 2018. His reception probably won’t be as frosty as Kyrie in Boston or Anthony Davis in New Orleans, but it will absolutely be a hostile environment.

Replacing Kawhi: Kawhi Leonard will, presumably, sit this game out for load management. Doc Rivers will have a couple options to start in his stead, including Lou Williams, Landry Shamet, Rodney McGruder, and Patrick Patterson. Shamet makes the most sense and is the likely candidate, but Doc could go another direction too. Landry has mostly been pretty quiet since returning from injury, and maybe an extended stint playing alongside Paul George and the Clippers’ starters could do him some good. Getting him going will be a key element the rest of the season, as he truly unlocks the Clippers’ offense to attain new heights.

Tightening Defense: The Clippers’ defense has steadily improved over the course of the NBA season. They’re just a hair outside the top five, and not far removed from second (the Bucks have a comfy edge for the top spot). Their cohesion has noticeably stepped up in recent weeks, and there are times when the Clippers’ perimeter defense looks nigh impenetrable. Pat Beverley sometimes fouls too much, and there are games where Ivica Zubac is outmatched by bigger or more athletic centers and Trez is too small, but the Clippers have shown an ability to move past such obstacles. They are long on the perimeter, and their zone defense has proven highly effective in short bursts. They might not be a historically good defense, as some optimists may have hoped before the start of the season, but they’re very good.

Check back in on the game thread later today, and prepare for what should be a very fun game!

Update: This will also serve as the game thread due to SB Nation’s restrictions on our posting requirements that began last week.