(Update: Kendrick Perkins will not play tonight, and Steven Adams will get his first start. - Sherman)
It seems like the season's just begun, but the Clippers are already 10% done. Going into tonight, they're heading into their 9th game after a brutal early season stretch. They've already dealt with two separate back-to-backs, have had 5 of their 8 games on the road, and have only had one two-day break.
That type of scheduling is the reality of life in the NBA, but it hasn't helped contribute to the questions surrounding this Clippers team. They're 5-3 heading into tonight's game, and have taken their share of hits. Their opening night loss to the Lakers arose doubts about their interior defense, and Doc Rivers' subsequent refusal to give significant time to any of his backup bigs hasn't exactly helped matters.
Put quite simply, the Clippers can't stop any big man that creates his own shot. You can literally look down all of the Clippers box scores and see the same thing. Nikola Vucevic going off for 30. Chris Andersen grabbing 10 points in 20 minutes. Demarcus Cousins living up to his potential. David Lee and Andrew Bogut combining for 39. The only real exception is Houston, who ran up and down the floor with the Clips and have no bench bigs of their own.
Fortunately for the Clippers, the Thunder have been using leaner and leaner lineups lately. OKC has no real post threat to their name, and most of their crunch-time lineups have Durant at the four. Still, it's hard to say if this is a huge disadvantage for Oklahoma City, because they've easily been able to keep pace with LA's offense in the past. In fact, Durant never scored below 32 points against the Clippers last year, while Westbrook always shot 40% or better. Meanwhile, in Chris Paul's two outings against OKC, he never managed to get above 38% shooting.
I think the key for the Clippers will be to force the Thunder into halfcourt ball. Simply put, the Thunder have struggled whenever they've had to play in a slow-paced game. A great deal of their points come early in the shot clock, and Russell Westbrook is especially fond of grabbing quick points while the opposing defense is still getting set. Meanwhile, the Clippers have thrived in a slower paced setting. It's the one place where their defense can be a factor, because they rotate onto the weak side rather well. Their offense will work either way, but the Clippers only look dominant when their defense is at a nearly acceptable level.
The Clippers main weak spot is their bench. Doc Rivers will avoid putting in his reserves as much as possible, but at least one under-performing player is going to have to see time tonight. Jamal Crawford is the team's lone bright spot in that area, so when his shot isn't falling, the team can really struggle. Darren Collison has shot badly from inside the arc, and he can't manage the team's offense well. Meanwhile, Matt Barnes has brought the D but not the three, and B.J. Mullens is B.J. Mullens. In short, I'm just hoping that Jeremy Lamb and Jamal Crawford will get into the three point shooting contest.
On the Thunder's side of things, they're still working to figure out their rotation. Kendrick Perkins has been a disappointment, if you can call it disappointment at this juncture. But the alternative is starting Steven Adams, who has shown promise but will still commit an array of rookie mistakes. Perry Jones and Jeremy Lamb are seeing time, but neither has had a break-out game, and neither has been given the keys to try and create their own offense regularly. Meanwhile, Reggie Jackson continues to impress, but we don't know whether putting him in at shooting guard is necessarily more beneficial than putting Sefolosha at that same position.
At the end of the day, I think that the Thunder have the momentum and energy heading into tonight's game, along with the historical dominance. A Clipper win certainly isn't out of the picture, but unless Chris Paul can finally be an offensive factor against Russell Westbrook, I doubt that they come away with a victory.
What do you think will happen in tonight's game? Vote in the poll, post a comment!