2011-2012 Game 12 Preview: Thunder Face West Leading Clippers

Unfortunately, Chris Paul was never able to pass the "You Must Be This Tall to Ride" test. - Kirby Lee-US PRESSWIRE

Despite what you might be thinking from last year, the Clippers are actually a very, very strong team heading into tonight's matchup. Why are they looking so impressive?

2012-2013 NBA Season
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The Los Angeles Clippers (8-2)
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The Oklahoma City Thunder (8-3)
November 21st, 2012
Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
6:30 PM CST
Entertainment Sports Programming Network, Fox Sports Net Oklahoma, Prime Ticket
WWLS the Sports Animal (98.1), KFWB 980 AM
Enemy Blogs: Clips Nation, ClipperBlog
Previous Meetings: None
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Russell Westbrook
Willie Green SG Thabo Sefolosha
Caron Butler/Matt Barnes SF Kevin Durant
Blake Griffin PF Serge Ibaka
DeAndre Jordan C Kendrick Perkins

Despite what you might be thinking from last year, the Clippers are actually a very, very strong team heading into tonight's matchup. They're 8-2, at the top of the Western Conference, and riding a six game win streak. That win streak includes a comfortable win over San Antonio (twice), an easy victory over Miami, and outright blowouts of the Bulls, Hawks, and Blazers. Why is this team looking so impressive?

Well, for one thing, their bench doesn't suck anymore. They've saved them on several occasions this season. After cutting loose some old veterans last year, the Clippers have brought in the defensively minded Ronny Turiaf and Ryan Hollins, with the idea that they could effectively guard the paint while letting the guards do all the scoring. And score they have. Jamal Crawford has acted as the Clippers' Kevin Martin, exploding for huge amounts of points and having his greatest season since 2009. Eric Bledsoe and Matt Barnes also often hit the double digit total in scoring. Moreover, Bledsoe is a great stealer while Barnes is an excellent rebounder.

To round things off, this team has even more talent waiting in the wings. Lamar Odom, who's been accused of having problems with physical fitness and motivation to play, sits deep on the bench. But if he could somehow return to his former self, it would be a titanic boon for the Clippers front line. They've also got Chauncey Billups and Grant Hill sidelined with injury, and they both figure to be in the picture for minutes when they return. Long story short, this team is going to have some serious decisions to make about who to play in the coming weeks and months, but no matter what they do, they're still fielding a In laymen's terms, Vinny Del Negro almost can't screw it up.

When you look at this team from a statistical point of view, they're no less fearsome. They're full of scorers, so it only makes sense that they're third in league scoring. They're also a team that likes to get to the line, which is no surprise when you consider the amount of low post banging that goes on. Lastly, they're the league's #1 team when it comes to steals, and #5 when it comes to blocks. In other words, the Clippers love to get out on the break, can bide time at the line when the offense isn't clicking, and they score points in bunches.

However, they do have their low points. Sometimes, their lineups can fall apart when they're forced onto the perimeter, and the other team shuts down the lane. This is where I think the Thunder can take advantage of the Clips. They have some excellent help defense in the paint, and if they stay big and refuse to run, the Thunder can force the Clippers out onto the perimeter. Now, the Clipper definitely can kill you from that distance, but if you leave them out there for too long, they're bound to hit some doldrums. And if the Thunder can avoid hitting those offensive doldrums themselves, then I could see them pulling out a victory here.

Conversely, the Thunder are easy to pressure and force into turnovers, so the pressure will really be on Russell Westbrook tonight to be the jack of all trades. He needs to avoid the trap, be an able passer, and score on a 2011-2012 level. Easier said than done, I know.

Tonight, Caron Butler may or may not be sitting out with a shoulder injury suffered in the Spurs game on Monday. Should he not be ready to go, Matt Barnes would likely start, and more minutes could possibly be given to Lamar Odom.

Given current events, the Clippers' success might not seem all that surprising. But given historical context, the Clippers' run of success has been amazing. This team has never in 42 years of existance won a division title. They've reached the playoffs only 5 times since moving to Los Angeles in 1984, and have never so much as sniffed a conference finals appearance. So for them to be looking at the NBA's best record is nothing short of a miracle, really.

Anyway, tonight's game should be massively exciting, and should provide a good chance at redemption after the Grizzlies loss. I think the Thunder will find a way to win, but it could easily go either way.

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 109, Los Angeles Clippers 108

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