Tonight, the road-worn Oklahoma City Thunder pursue a conclusive 3-1 advantage to a competitive series vs. the charging Los Angeles Clippers.
Sunday, the Thunder enjoyed a bittersweet opening to their latest back-to-back inroad. Center Steven Adams exited vs. Sacramento after sustaining a jarring head collision. It was announced this afternoon that Adams will miss tonight’s contest due to concussive symptoms.
Consequently, a final 16-17’ meeting opposite an overachieving Clippers unit will thoroughly examine OKC's mettle.
To fully appreciate what LAC has accomplished during its current six-game undefeated run, one must consider the context through which the wins have come.
For L.A., All-NBA power forward Blake Griffin has missed 14-consecutive contests following a deflating knee injury. In Griffin's 24 appearances this season, the 6'10 All-Star averages 21 points, eight rebounds, and four assists.
Pursuant to Griffin's absence, an aging, and uncertain Clippers unit dropped six of eight ventures --with all six losses occurring in bitter succession.
Moreover, of late, Chris Paul has battled through his own recurring maladies.
Due to this misfortune, just as LAC’s campaign seemed to teeter upon lost-cause status, an often overlooked cog boldly emerged in one of the franchise’s desperate hours. Defensive stalwart DeAndre Jordan has asserted his considerable two-way presence in timely fashion to keep his team afloat as uncertainty abounds.
Jordan’s sequential 20-rebound efforts vs. Phoenix and Memphis, in the absence of his superstar running-mates, served as a rallying cry for the Clippers’ present fortune. Throughout his team’s unbeaten run Jordan has tallied five 18-plus rebound performances.
Since directing a hallmark Jan. 2 win, the defensive standout has averaged 14.7 ppg, 18 rebs, and two blocks while shooting 72% FGA and limiting his fouls to 2.5 per 34 mpg.
Further bolstering Jordan's meritorious feats are the efficient, and subtle offerings of a banged-up Chris Paul. Since his Jan. 6 return, Paul has contributed 17 points, 12 assists, six rebounds, and 2.3 steals while netting 52% FGA in 30 mpg.
As Oklahoma City will be without Steven Adams, expect Enes Kanter to make his first start of the season. While Kanter is a borderline-elite scorer, he may experience marked difficulties against a springy and confident DeAndre Jordan.
The Thunder must also account for Los Angeles’ wellspring of perimeter shooting, while attempting to penetrate one of the league’s most harassing defenses.
- OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER (25-17) VS. LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS (28-14)
- TIME: 10:30 PM ET
- VENUE: STAPLES CENTER, LOS ANGELES
- TV: TNT
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER KEYS TO VICTORY
- Play physical against Chris Paul/Jordan
- Use front-court depth to place Jordan on the line early and often
- Throw multiple defensive wrinkles at the ultra-efficient Paul
- Run the Clippers’ shooters off the three-point line; but beware of the Jordan lob
- Replicate fast-break success
- DO NOT become careless against a punishing Los Angeles defense
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
Oklahoma City sports a 2-1 record vs. the Clippers this season. Although, the 114-88 New Year’s Eve Thunder blowout can be largely overlooked because Los Angeles started its second-unit that evening, as Paul and Griffin sat.
Similarly, it is difficult to glean reliable strategy data from the teams’ initial meetings ahead of tonight’s contest due to the presence of Blake Griffin and a healthy Steven Adams in each affair.
Therefore, the best litmus-test comparison of all recent OKC vs. LAC meetings to consider is perhaps the Nov. 2 showdown in which Adams (2 pts), and Griffin (7-of-21 FGM) were both largely ineffective. On that occasion, Chris Paul was forced into five turnovers as Westbrook (35 pts) dominated a fourth-quarter rally (11 pts 4 rebs) to secure a hotly-contested 85-83 OKC win.
Oklahoma City should look to this victory for guidance throughout their MLK capper.
Another item to note: as hot as Los Angeles has been since the calender’s turn, Oklahoma City has won four of it last five outings.
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
Throughout an unblemished six-game march, Los Angeles has held five of its downed opponents below 100 total points. Amid this torrid run, a well-balanced Clippers squad has averaged 107.6 ppg and stinted foes to 96.8 ppg.
Upon last waylaying tinsel-town rival LAL, the Clippers saw eight players score four-plus points. Conversely, the Lakers’ starting-five mustered just 41 points compared to LAC’s 77 in the course of a breezy 113-97 Clippers romp.
The Los Angeles Clippers have yet to taste defeat in 2017. Ironically, the last team to place a loss on Doc Rivers’ docket was the Oklahoma City Thunder.
INJURY REPORTS/PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS
The Oklahoma City Thunder will be without Steven Adams (concussion). The Los Angeles Clippers will be without Blake Griffin (knee)
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
- Point Guard: Russell Westbrook
- Shooting Guard: Victor Oladipo
- Small Forward: Andre Roberson
- Power Forward: Domantas Sabonis
- Center: Enes Kanter/Adams
Los Angeles Clippers
- Point Guard: Chris Paul
- Shooting Guard: J.J. Redick
- Small Forward: Austin Rivers
- Power Forward: Luc Mbah a Moute
- Center: DeAndre Jordan
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER +8
Both the Vegas books and our partners at numberFire list the Los Angeles Clippers as overwhelming favorites against a battered, and road-weary Oklahoma City Thunder iteration.
Even as tonight’s key matchup pits Westbrook vs. Paul, so much of OKC’s prospects for victory ride upon the status of Steven Adams. If, as is expected, Adams cannot suit-up — or be near 100 % — vs. Los Angeles, Oklahoma City will fight an uphill battle from the Staples Center.
Oklahoma City is 10-11 away from Chesapeake Energy Arena. The Los Angeles Clippers are 16-6 at home this season.