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Records: Los Angeles Clippers (25-36) at Oklahoma City Thunder (36-24)
Time: 9:30 PM
Place: Staples Center
TV: Fox Sports Oklahoma (Cox 37, HD Ch. 722)
Radio: WWLS 98.1-FM, WWLS 640-AM
Enemy Blog(s): Clips Nation
Previous Meeting(s): Nov 11th (Win = OKC 83 / LAC 79) and 15th (Loss = OKC 93 / LAC 101)
Backstory: On the heels of a thrashing by Denver, we get to face the Clippers on their home court. We've lost to them before so this isn't by any means a pushover contest. Remember -- the Clippers just beat the Jazz on Monday (we'll conveniently overlook the game they had against the Suns, particularly given our recent meltdown against Phoenix). There were some pretty big question marks when matching the Thunder up against the Nuggets, and many of the same problems are going to hold true against the Clippers -- it will be interesting to see how the team responds after the Denver fiasco. Stopping Gordon and Kaman are probably going to be the two most notable problems going into the game, but there's a lot more to the Clippers than those two. OKC hasn't really ever played all that well against LAC, and if we really are on the upswing, the hope is that we consistently put away all the non-upper-tier teams. The last time we played LAC was in November, and much has changed since then. This is an opportunity for both teams to add another inkling of information regarding their season-long improvement (or lack thereof).
Below: Matchups, Prediction
Projected starters (source: NewsOK.com)
Point Guard: Russell Westbrook vs. Baron Davis
Westbrook continues to be an absolute monster for the Thunder. In meetings against the Clippers however, Westbrook has been schooled by Davis. Look for that to change, as Russell has only matured and improved, and assuming Davis will continue to torch us repeatedly ... well that's not optimistic at all is it? I foresee Russell breaking out offensively and somewhat containing Davis -- in short, lets hope the tables have turned and we can have this previously lopsided matchup go the other way. Realistically, this will probably be a much tighter matchup (either way it goes).
Shooting Guard: Thabo Sefolosha vs. Eric Gordon
Gordon has absolutely shredded the Thunder in our past meetings. If Thabo decides to work on him on the offensive end, he'll probably do pretty well, since Gordon doesn't defend opposing shooting guards all that well. If nothing else, Thabo will help to limit Gordon to non-three-point shooting. The problem is that Gordon can slash inside and score from the outside. Thabo is only really good at shutting down one of those things. Gordon is going to get his points -- the idea is to make it harder and to limit his opportunities for easy baskets.
Small Forward: Kevin Durant vs. Rasual Butler
KD is going to get his points like usual. Butler is an underrated defender, but he'll have his hands full minimizing the damage KD is going to pile on him. KD is probably going to inflate his rebounding totals somewhat, as Butler is pretty much a zero in that category. Defensively, this matchup is going to be better than most for KD, as Butler doesn't attack the inside nearly as much as he used to and can often be coerced into settling for outside shots. That said, this is going to be a much more interesting matchup than most casual observers probably think it is.
Power Forward: Jeff Green vs. Drew Gooden
Gooden is an above average post player, and he's definitely not a pushover when matched against Green. Offensively he should find himself in a good matchup due to his size and physicality, but he's not been one to exploit that very well. Green is going to get his fair share of points, but look for him to lose the rebounding battle. Between Gooden and Kaman, look for the Thunder to lose the battle inside -- and if the Clippers utilize the interior mismatch as much as Denver did, we'd better work on a solution midgame.
Center: Nenad Krstic vs. Chris Kaman
Krstic has been solid as of late, what with random treys, nice passes, and pretty good defense. Don't count on him to do much defensively against Kaman -- exactly the type of center Krstic generally struggles to contain. On the other end of the court Krstic will probably get his points on offense, but I'm going to hedge that he'll see less minutes as we rotate in Ibaka and Collison to shore up the interior against Kaman.
Bench: Travis Outlaw and Craig Smith stand out as some of the interesting names on the Clippers bench, but it's guys like DeAndre Jordan and Blake that round out a very solid NBA calibre bench. We're going to need Ibaka and Collison in this one. If they pick up a bunch of fouls early, we're going to be in trouble.
Coaching and Intangibles:
Coaching is going to be advantage us. Intangibles? We've won on their home court before and we're not a team to take multiple losses in a row if we can help it. On the other hand we haven't been able to contain Gordon at all in the past, and if the Thunder allow the Clippers to score like crazy we're toast. Also, should we fail to find a way to contain Kaman without doubling him up, it'll likely get ugly pretty fast.
Look for an up and down game. Both teams have the ability to put on a scoring clinic if things get sloppy -- particularly the Clippers. The Clippers also have the interior play that can really knock us out of the game, but given their inconsistency from game to game and our improvement since the beginning of the year (and need to keep winning the more winnable games) look for OKC to eke it out in the end. And I'm obviously somewhat biased, so go with that. The prediction below is a massively huge guess.
Prediction: Oklahoma City 110, LA Clippers 105
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And, again, feel free to drop any comments you might have during, before, or after the game below.