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Thunder vs. Clippers: Round 3 is Set, Paul and Griffin are in OKC (2011-2012 Game 58 Preview)

We both submit to the power of the mighty ball!
We both submit to the power of the mighty ball!

GameThread at 7, come discuss the game!

Records: Oklahoma City Thunder (42-15) vs Los Angeles Clippers (34-23)

Time: 7 PM Central Daylight Time

Place: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

TV: Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, Fox Sports Network West

Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1), KFWB News Talk 980

Enemy Blog(s): Clips Nation, ClipperBlog, A Dog Named Clipper

Previous Matchup(s): Jan. 30, Mar. 21 (The Season Series is Tied at 1-1)

The two games played between these two teams this year couldn't be more different. Both were blowouts of epic proportions. The January contest saw Oklahoma City outscored by some red hot perimeter shooting, and the March contest saw Blake Griffin score a career low. There doesn't appear to be any reason on the surface for the polar opposite performances. Caron Butler and Chauncey Billups were out for the second contest, but the reason for the second loss can mainly be attributed to paint deficiency, not a lack of outside scoring. You can argue that Vinny Del Negro screwed it up by leaving in a bad second unit for too long, but in my opinion, there's no way the Clips could have won with Griffin playing as poorly as he did. The difference could also be attributed to the loss of Thabo Sefolosha during the first contest, leading to some absurdly high shooting numbers for the Clippers. But even then, citing Thabo as the only thing keeping the Clippers between a normal shooting performance and 52% from deep is giving him a bit too much credit.

Taking those factors into consideration, tonight should hopefully be a nice middle ground between the previous two games. Caron Butler is back after sitting out the second matchup, and Thabo Sefolosha continues to be in the Thunder lineup after missing the first contest. The Thunder have been in a bit of a slump over the past two weeks, going 2-3 in their last five games. Meanwhile, the Clippers have been treading water, with two wins over the young Kings, a win against the Mavericks, and a loss to the Lakers and Grizzlies.

The Clippers are a beatable team, with some noticeable flaws. They're not particularly good at shutting down one particular player on defense, as evidenced by Kobe's recent torching of them and the fact that Westbrook and Durant had good games against them in both the blowout win and horrendous loss. They are, however, good at forcing turnovers, be it through drawing charges or stealing the ball, and it's hard to catch them off of their assignments.

Offensively, the Clippers will run with the Thunder, which is always a plus. But they are noticeably better at shooting the three, and can kill their opponents with barrages of consecutive points. DeAndre Jordan is an excellent athletic post partner for Blake Griffin, who is one of the best big men in the NBA today. Their bench has proven to be a bit on the weak side, but they stick to a tight eight man rotation, so we shouldn't see too many dry stretches from them today.

In order for the Thunder to win, they'll have to close the door on Blake Griffin again. The Clippers have shot extremely well from the perimeter in the past two matchups, so I doubt the Thunder's strength will come from shutting them down there. They'll have to be careful not to waste possessions during critical stretches, because the Clips are the best team in the league at putting other teams away with short bursts of scoring. Lastly, they'll have to get 10+ point production out of at least two guys not named Durant or Westbrook. This game will most likely end up in the 100 point range, and our two stars can't be counted on to carry that much of an offensive load.

When considering the standings, this game is especially important, because if the Thunder lose tonight and the Spurs defeat the Lakers, the Thunder lose the first seed in the West again. Keep an eye on the Spurs' box score, and onward!

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 115, Los Angeles Clippers 108