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Thunder-Clippers Preview and gamethread: 3 things to watch as OKC heads to L.A.

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Can the Thunder get their first win of the season tonight?

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Oklahoma City Thunder Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Game: Oklahoma City Thunder vs Los Angeles Clippers

Time: 9:30PM CST

Location: Staples, Center, Los Angeles, CA

Broadcast: NBA TV

***

After a closer than expected loss against the Warriors on opening night, the Thunder are in Los Angeles tonight to face the Clippers. Both teams are in search of their first victory, with the Clippers dropping their first game of the season against the Nuggets on Wednesday despite the heroic efforts of Boban the Friendly Giant. Both teams will need every win they can get as the Western Conference Playoff race will be even more crowded than last year.

Here are three things to watch at the Staples Center tonight:

1. Position battles at shooting guard and power forward spots

The Thunder entered the season with question marks at the starting power forward and shooting guard positions, and Game 1 didn’t do a lot to clarify either spot. Patrick Patterson got the start at the 4 but only played 19 minutes, with Jerami Grant playing 29 minutes off the bench. Neither was particularly impressive- Patterson got to the free throw line on a nifty cut and hit 1 three pointer and that was about it, finishing 2-9 from the field. Grant wasn’t much better, going 2-7, and both were 1-4 from deep. Grant looked confident firing his 3 pointers, going up without hesitation, but the results weren’t there.

Terrance Ferguson, meanwhile, got the nod at the shooting guard position, and proceeded to do pretty much nothing despite somehow playing 27 minutes. He finished with 0 points, getting up only 2 shots all game, and struggled to stay attached to Klay Thompson. Thompson had a bad night, but he got a ton of open looks that he simply bricked after giving Ferguson the slip. The biggest thing to notice with Ferguson is how little you notice him- he seems to just disappear on offense a lot. That’s partly because the Thunder don’t make a concerted effort to get wings besides Paul George the ball, but that’s not entirely it - Alex Abrines got up 8 shots despite playing less minutes, including a couple plays that seemed designed to get him open 3’s. The Thunder may prefer Abrines in a bench scorer role, and that may be what he’s best suited for when Andre Roberson eventually returns. But Ferguson needs to do something, anything, if they’re going to start him and play him for more than half the game.

Hamidou Diallo only played 9 minutes, but actually made an impact in the minutes he was out there- he got to the foul line twice (alas, he shot only 50% at the charity stripe. First game jitters, or do we need to have Roberson-level concerns about him at free throw line?) and was just more active than Ferguson. Timothe Luwawu Cabbarot, meanwhile, didn’t touch the court at all. Can Donovan find a some more time in his rotation for these guys?

2. The Big Kiwi vs BOBAN

Steven Adams is one of the largest, most fearsome human beings alive today. Boban Marjanovic, however, might not be human at all.

HE’S DUNKING WITHOUT JUMPING.

Look, Boban is not the biggest star of these Clippers (that would be Lou Williams, reigning sixth man of the year), or their best player (that would be...Tobias Harris I guess?) or their most exciting future prospect (that would Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, their intriguing first round draft pick). But he is a 7’3 monstrosity WHO CAN DUNK WITHOUT JUMPING, and who briefly dominated the Nuggets single-handedly on opening night.

What did a smooth-faced Kiwi have to say about defending Boban two years ago?

The Clippers won’t be building their offense around Boban tonight. Who will they be built around? Who knows. The Clippers are legitimately 12 deep and without a clear star. They’re trying to win this year while also getting playing time for their young prospects. Lou Williams was their main offensive focal point last year, but on any given night you could see it also being Tobias Harris, the newly healthy Danilo Gallinari or SGA. They are the ultimate “oh yeah, I forgot that guy was on their team” squad. That makes them fun to watch, but also wildly unpredictable. So Boban probably won’t be what swings the game one way or the other. But if you aren’t excited to watch Steven Adams and Nerlens Noel battle on the boards with this majestic beast, then I’m sorry that you hate fun so much.

3. Return of the Brodie?

Clippers coach Doc Rivers says Russell Westbrook is going to play tonight. Thunder Coach Billy Donovan has not confirmed this. I’ll admit I’m queasy about him playing his first game back after surgery against Patrick Beverley, who caused Westbrook’s original knee injury in the playoffs four years ago on a, ahem, questionable play. Still, if Russ is 100%, then we should be very excited to watch him. The season won’t feel like it’s truly begun until Russ returns - so much of what OKC does depends on him being at the controls.

If Russ does return, we can start to see two of OKC’s big questions for the season answered; how well can Westbrook and Dennis Schroder play together? And if the game is close, who will Billy Donovan close with? Schroder was decent in the debut against the Warriors, although his airballing an open 3 in crunch time reminded us all that he won’t exactly be spacing the floor for Westbrook. By talent, he is the 4th best player on the team (at least until Roberson returns), and I’m confident that he and Russ can fit together in the long term. But it wouldn’t be surprising if the two struggle in their first real game time together tonight (remember, Russ didn’t play at all in the preseason) and Donovan elects to finish the game with Ferguson or Abrines in between Westbrook and George.

Poll

Who do you think will win tonight?

This poll is closed

  • 75%
    Thunder
    (81 votes)
  • 24%
    Clippers
    (26 votes)
107 votes total Vote Now