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Rested Thunder resolve to raid ragged Clippers

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Westbrook and Paul, two of the NBA's best point guards, will be the absolute focus of tonight's matchup.

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I want front row seats to the dream that this image came out of!
I want front row seats to the dream that this image came out of!
William Bennett Berry

Westbrook vs. Paul

This game starts and ends with this matchup. Both of these players register an unbelievable amount of assists. Chris Paul is the NBA's leader in assists with 10.2 per game, while Russell Westbrook has averaged 10.5 assists per game since the beginning of February. Furthermore, both players are on ridiculous scoring tears. Westbrook has what would be a league leading 33.1 points per game since the beginning of February. Paul has been under similar pressure to score, with the recent injuries to Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford. From February 1st through March 8th, Paul averaged 20.9 points, above his season average of 18.2.

I didn't include Paul's most recent game because he played it through injury. CP3 knocked knees with Steph Curry on March 8th. Paul didn't leave the game, but examination afterwards revealed it to be a right patella contusion. Paul attempted to play through his injury Monday night against the Wolves, and here's Justin Russo's account of that injury over on ClipperBlog:

"It was clear from the outset that Chris Paul wasn't even anywhere near 100 percent tonight. He might not have even been anywhere near 50 percent, if we're being honest. However, he still battled and led the way for a Clippers attack that featured mainly just J.J. Redick and DeAndre Jordan for wide stretches of this game. Paul said he got treatment all day today but that he has to be smart and understand that he doesn't want to hurt the team. He did at times tonight, though, with his inability to get anything for himself. At one point in the game, he took a painful looking one-legged shot near the left elbow and seemed to hate even using his right leg to do anything other than hobble around the court. But, in true Point God fashion, he battled for nearly 30 minutes tonight and finished with a game-high 15 assists to go with two points on 1-for-6 shooting."

If the injury hasn't healed significantly over the past couple days, that might mean good news for Russell Westbrook. Still, for the sake of argument, here's Paul's record head-to-head vs. Westbrook all time.

Chris Paul looks like the more efficient player at first glance. But a deeper look at the stats tells you that Westbrook is negatively effected by bad performances from his rookie and sophomore seasons. Furthermore, Westbrook's injury very early in the game on October 30th of last year really helps tank his averages. The playoff stats from a year ago tell a more accurate story:

Here, you really see the philosophical difference between Westbrook and Paul a year ago. Paul was ultra efficient, leading his team's offense, dropping dimes, and taking all of the right shots. Westbrook was looking to dominate the game, scoring whenever he could at the expense of his shot percentage and turnover rate. Still, Westbrook's desire to dominate led to an abnormally high three point percentage for Chris Paul. Russ really has a tendency to zone out defensively in games where he tries to do everything on offense.

Still, this year's triple-double Westbrook is different. Russ is becoming much more Paul-like during certain parts of the game, getting heavily involved in the half court offense. Sunday's win against the Raptors was the perfect example of a controlled Westbrook who didn't take too many shots and let the offense flow to the team. But Friday's loss to the Bulls is a good example of how Russ can become too shot-focused and end up tanking the team. Westbrook might just dominate the partially-injured Paul and win anyway, but perhaps Sunday's game was the start of a new era....

Kanter vs. Jordan

This will be a rather unique situation for both bigs, as neither is used to being the second offensive option on their respective teams. But injuries have thrust both of these players into those roles. Kanter is obviously the more offensively skilled player, as he can hit mid-range jumpers and has more finesse from short ranges. But Jordan is the thoroughly superior rebounder. Jordan leads the NBA in rebounds by a whopping margin of 102 over Andre Drummond. In other words, Jordan would have to sit out for 8 games in a row for Drummond to catch up to his rebound total. Considering that OKC relies heavily on rebounding to win (3rd best in the NBA in rebounding differential), I find Jordan's skills rather worrying.

Still, Kanter stands a good chance of stopping Jordan. As we saw against the Raptors on Sunday, Kanter is really good at stopping bigs that can't post up. Valanciunas is one such big. I haven't seen much of Valanciunas in Toronto, but in countless games I saw him play for Lithuania, Jonas struggled to post up the weakest of international centers. Most of Valanciunas' points are scored through the pick and roll, good positioning, or offensive rebounds. Kanter can stop most of these plays because he's aware and tall. Kanter moreso struggles against the Al Jeffersons of the world.

The Rest

Looking through the rest of the rosters, definitely look for Redick and Ibaka to be the third key for each respective team's offense. Both could make an impact early if their jump shot is going strong. Ibaka struggled against the athletic Hawes on February 8th though, shooting only 27% from the floor. A lot of Serge's game relies on quickness and finesse, so it's easy to see why Hawes might be more trouble.

Definitely continue to keep an eye on Dion Waiters. It seems he's gotten the unofficial green light to take the most shots on the bench for the time being. It also appears that Waiters and Augustin are the team's unofficial starters for now, as both of them are being rolled out regularly at the end of games. It's hard to tell who will get the final crunch time spot among the two moving forward. It would appear that the more sensible option at the moment is D.J. Augustin, especially offensively. But Augustin's numbers aren't that much better than Dion's, and Dion is unarguably the physically better defensive option at shooting guard. Regardless, unless Singler or Morrow start scoring around picks, expect Augustin and Waiters to play at the end.

On the other end of the floor, prepare to get a mid-2000s flashback as Nate Robinson and Hedo Turkoglu lead the charge for the Clipper offense. Robinson is the NBA's ultimate scoring journeyman, having sat on our bench once. He'll mostly be remembered for not stopping J.J. Barea in the 2011 playoffs, when once called upon. Nate Rob might have run roughshod through our defense last year, but the addition of Augustin should allow the Thunder to contain quicker bench players. Turkoglu will simply shoot threes.

There's also Austin Rivers, whom might end up getting the most shots on the Clipper bench. Obviously he's a favorite of his dad Doc, but Austin has done enough to warrant his own praise. The younger Rivers scored 22 points on 57% shooting in a loss to the Warriors on Sunday. In Monday's win against the Wolves, Austin scored 13 on 63% shooting with 6 assists. Both games also featured 2 steals. Rivers might repeat tonight. It's hard to see a point guard who can hardly hit a jumpshot repeatedly succeeding in the NBA, but Rivers somehow manages to have good nights via difficult floaters and fast break buckets. We'll see if the trend continues tonight.

All in all, I expect the Thunder to run away with this one in the end. LA is going to get obliterated in the paint for the 10 minutes Jordan sits down.

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 119, Los Angeles Clippers 110.

What do you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!

2014-15 NBA Season Game 64
(Won 1)

(Won 1)
March 11th, 2015
Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
7:00 PM Central Standard Time
TV: Entetainment Sports Programming Network, Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, Fox Sports Network Prime Ticket
Injury Report: Kevin DurantSteve Novak, Jamal Crawford, Blake Griffin (Out)
This Season's Matchups: Oct 30 (L 90-93), Feb 8 (W 131-108)
Probable Starters
Chris Paul PG Russell Westbrook
J.J. Redick SG Andre Roberson
Matt Barnes SF Kyle Singler
Spencer Hawes PF Serge Ibaka
DeAndre Jordan C Enes Kanter

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