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Thunder Look to Get Back on Track in California

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OKC has lost four of their first five games after the All-Star break. An upcoming three game road trip in California offers them a chance to right the ship quickly.

Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

While the forecast for last week was a bit brighter for OKC--but the Thunder made that forecast gloomy going 1-3--this week there is going to be a lot of variance in the expected weather.

The Thunder will be in California all this week facing off against two of the Western conference's elite teams (Clippers and Warriors) and the feisty Kings that always give them a tight game.

In the movies California is pictured as this beautiful place where the sun is always out and a thermometer isn't needed because it's always great weather.

Well this is no Hollywood production that Oklahoma City is about to embark on, especially given how the Thunder have played  of late.

After this three game away trip OKC is either going to be California Dreamin' or rushing to check out of Hotel California.


2/29 at Sacramento

FORECAST: Partly Cloudy with a high of 75 Degrees

This is set up as the perfect game to right the ship for OKC. The Kings are a mess off the court, but on the court they have the talent to give the Thunder a true fight.

DeMarcus Cousins and Rajon Rondo are both gamers and will be up for the challenge of facing KD and Russ.

Sacramento is also right on the cusp of the eighth seed. They currently sit four games back of Houston. A win at home over one the best teams in the league could be the spark necessary to jumpstart a playoff push.

The Thunder have shown a propensity to play down to their competition at times and after giving away the game against the Warriors last night we could see them suffer a let down in California's capital.

This is a game that will be a showcase for Russell Westbrook. Rondo hasn't been the same defender for the past two seasons and Westbrook seems to have some UCLA feud going with Darren Collison.

It's not just about points either, Westbrook is averaging 12.5 assists per game against the Kings this year.

The Thunder have split their first two meetings with Sacramento, and needed a game-winning Durant jumper to upend the Kings at home.

With the Clippers and Warriors looming on the horizon it's very important that OKC starts this West Coast trip off with a win over a weaker opponent.

Prediction: Thunder 112, Kings 107


On The Doppler Radar: Steven Adams vs DeMarcus Cousins

The Kings go as Boogie Cousins goes. Cousins is the best big man in the league so holding him in check is no walk in the park. Steven Adams however doesn't do walks in the park. Adams is 100 percent brute force and physicality. He's the player you hate playing against, but want on your team every game. How much physical play the referees allow in the paint will be huge. Cousins has shown a lack of emotional control when he feels like an opposing player is stepping over the line--just ask Chris Paul. If Adams can keep cousins under 30 points and 12 rebounds this game should be an easy victory for the Thunder. If not, prepare for many hot takes on the Thunder's position as title contenders.


3/02 at Los Angeles Clippers

FORECAST: 40 Degrees with a cold front and high winds

Another team that KD has sunk with a game winner is the Clippers. The two teams met in the Staples Center in late December and it was Durant's jumper and subsequent block on Chris Paul that helped OKC squeeze out a win.

The Thunder go back to LA, but are facing a different Clippers team this go around. Blake Griffin is still sidelined with a broken hand after punching his equipment manager friend.

Without Griffin, the Clippers haven't skipped a beat and have actually picked up a few games in the standings on the Thunder. High pick and rolls and hot shooting have kept the Clippers on the winning end during Griffin's extended absence.

Los Angeles has also added former Thunder player Jeff Green at the trade deadline. So far they've been using him as a Blake Griffin-lite. Green is nowhere the athlete, paint presence or passer that Griffin is, but he has range to the three point line and makes an impact on the glass.

OKC is really going to need to bring their A game on defense. The Clippers have shown throughout the season that once they get on a roll they are a hard team to slow down. With the way the Thunder have treated that side of the ball of late it doesn't look good.

Like the Kings, this is another team that Westbrook seems to have a personal vendetta against. His battles with CP3 do not disappoint. The Clippers also have a hard time with Durant. They have yet to find a defender capable of making KD work for his buckets. That still seems the case as Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Paul Pierce, Wes Johnson, CJ Wilcox, Jeff Green and Jamal Crawford aren't exactly a who's who group of defenders.

This is going to be a huge game for OKC's bench. While Billy Donovan is still tinkering with rotations since the addition of Randy Foye, the Thunder have a clear advantage in terms of depth. If players like Foye, Dion Waiters, Cam Payne, Kyle Singler and Enes Kanter give OKC positive minutes that can turn the game in the Thunder's favor.

Prediction: Thunder 96, Clippers 103


On The Doppler Radar: Serge Ibaka vs Jeff Green

It was the improvement and breakout play of Ibaka that made Green expendable in the first place. Ibaka continued his development and is now comfortably the better all-around player of the two. Green for his part has become a decent shooter from the perimeter and that is why this matchup will be key. With Green being capable of making it from distance that will drag Ibaka away from the rim. Ibaka is clearly the team's biggest interior presence and with him on the perimeter the Clippers can take advantage of that and try to exploit the lack of a rim defender.


3/03 at Golden State

FORECAST: Torrential Rain expected all day and night

After their last meeting ended in heartbreak this game is going to go one of two ways: 1) OKC is going to be confident that they can hang with Golden State and give the Warriors all they can handle for the third straight game or 2) The Warriors are going to blitz the Thunder off the court in the Bay Area.

Oklahoma City played just about the perfect game against Golden Dtate at home. They outreboubdrd them by 35, and outscored them in the paint 60 to 40.

They were doing a decent job of limiting the threes by anyone not named Steph Curry until Klay Thompson got in rhythm late and hit two big ones in the fourth.

However, it was their turnovers (all  22 of them) that helped the Warriors hang around long enough to pull out the win.

The Thunder have the talent and the defensive potential to beat the Warriors, but they must first find a way to close out games.

Golden State is a different beast at home and if they come out the gate knocking down their threes this game easily could get away from the Thunder.

After giving the Warriors two of their toughest games it would be huge for the Thunder to finally get over the hump with a win. Yet, coming out of the All-Star break OKC hasn't shown that it has reached the level to give the 48-minute, or more, necessary to beat a team like the Warriors.

Prediction: Thunder 108, Warriors 118


On The Doppler Radar: Andre Roberson vs Klay Thompson

The whole world is talking about the show Steph Curry put on, and rightfully so, but Klay Thompson finished the game with a big 32-point performance. Thompson couldn't get it going to begin the game and the defensive presence of Roberson was a big reason why. Roberson and Thompson have almost identical measurements which takes away most of the advantages Klay is able to use to his benefit against other shooting guards. However, the Warriors fed Klay earlier in the second half and after hitting his first two shots he would go on to pour in 25 second half points. If Roberson can make shots difficult for Thompson that's all the Thunder are hoping for. Thompson is one of the best shooters in the league, he's going to make a few tough shots. However, you can't let him get open shots. Sounds pretty simple and easy, but the biggest thing the Warriors have going for them is they make the simple and easy things difficult for their opponents.