Through 11 games, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s superstar experiment has been massively underwhelming. General Manager Sam Presti seemingly positioned the Thunder to challenge for one of the West’s top seeds when he acquired Carmelo Anthony and Paul George this summer. Yet they sit at just 4-7, 12th in the West and losers of four straight, as they head into a showdown Friday night against the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Clippers opened the season 4-0, but have since lost five of their past six. The team’s biggest issue has been on the defensive end of the floor, surrendering just under 112 points per contest during that stretch. For comparison, they allowed only 91.8 points per game in their first four contests — all wins.
All-Star Blake Griffin has assumed playmaking duties after the departure of Chris Paul and has shined in his new role as point-forward, averaging 22.8 points, 8.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists through ten games this season. Additionally, the 6-foot-10 high-flyer — who seems to add a new facet to his game every year — has adapted to the league’s recent emphasis on 3-point shooting, sporting a 40.4 percent clip on over five attempts per game from deep.
Like most of the Clippers’ opponents, Griffin will present a mismatch for whomever the Thunder throw at him. He’s too quick for traditional power forwards, too strong for undersized wings, and with his newfound ability to step behind the 3-point line, he’s now virtually impossible to guard. Griffin will likely get his; the key will be keeping him out of the lane, forcing him into jump shots and locking down his supporting cast of DeAndre Jordan among others.
While the Clippers are struggling to get stops, Oklahoma City is simply struggling to put the ball in the basket. In Thursday’s loss to the Denver Nuggets, they scored just 94 points — averaging just above 93 points per contest during their losing streak — relying on iso-heavy sets and failing to consistently move the ball on offense. Despite Westbrook’s gifted playmaking abilities, the 2016-17 MVP is settling for far too many contested jump shots. The same can be said for his co-stars, George and Anthony, who continue to struggle as they adjust to their new roles and home.
As both teams attempt to regain footing in the ultra-competitive Western Conference, they will each be without key pieces. Patrick Beverley — who almost always gives Westbrook fits — was sent home for the final two games of the team’s road trip after their loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday, suffering from a sore right knee. Additionally, free-agent signee Danillo Gallinari has been ruled out for Friday’s contest with a strained right glute and will miss his second consecutive game. Combo guard Austin Rivers suffered a sprained right ankle in practice Thursday and is questionable for Friday’s game. For the Thunder, Steven Adams left Thursday’s game with a right calf contusion and will be evaluated prior to tipoff on Friday.
Oklahoma City possesses the pieces to be an elite offensive and defensive unit. While the team’s struggles have been concerning, the NBA season is still in its infancy stage and it’s far too early to be overly worried. After dropping each of the three contests on their road trip, the Thunder will look to begin their three-game home stand with a victory and end their losing streak. Friday’s action tips off 9 p.m EST.
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