Oklahoma City will be playing the Los Angeles Clippers on the first night of a back to back in LA. The short trip to Los Angeles will involve playing the Clippers and then Lakers before coming back to Oklahoma to play another game against the Los Angeles Lakers. The game will start at 10:30 (EST) and is one of the middle games in a stretch of games where the Thunder play against legitimate contenders.
Oklahoma City won against the Sixers, one of the premier teams in the Eastern Conference and will be looking to get a win against the Clippers, a team many have touted for the NBA Finals. The Clippers come into this game after rag-dolling the Atlanta Hawks, LA won by 49 points in a game where Paul George played just 20 minutes.
Three Points to Note for the Thunder
1. The Thunder’s ball movement
It was impressive against the Philadelphia 76ers the other night and it feels like the offensive system is starting to develop consistency. The Thunder moved the ball and created good looks for the majority of the game, the startling aspect of the Thunder’s ball movement is that there is not one lead play-maker. Chris Paul or Shai Gilgeous-Alexander may bring the ball up the court but the ball will be passed three, four times a possession before an eventual score. The Thunder is pass-happy on the offensive end of the floor which is reflected by the assists being spread more evenly.
Chris Paul led the team in assists against the Sixers with five but Steven Adams had four assists as Thunder has used hand-offs and post offence much more. A great example of Adams being comfortable in the hand-off situation was a set that the Thunder ran in the third quarter against Philly. Adams waited for the cutting Ferguson to drag his man into the screen before dishing the ball. Steven’s pass timing was perfect as it created a wide open look from deep for Ferguson. Gallinari had a sweet looking bounce pass into a cutting Alexander for an easy layup out of a post-up situation.
2. Drawing fouls
The Thunder did well against Philly in drawing fouls and knocking down shots from the line. Oklahoma City’s improved foul-drawing came out of the team’s passing. The constant movement of the ball dragged the Sixers’ defence out of place and created open driving lanes where Gallinari, Paul and Alexander could get into the lane at will. The late rotations on defence by Embiid and Simmons were punished as the Thunder knocked down 35 free throws out of 41 attempts. The production from the line is impressive for a Thunder side which has previously struggled with making foul shots.
OKC made just 71.3% of the team’s free throws last season, the team free throw percentage this year is 76.8%. This improvement of 5.5% in terms of efficiency from the stripe makes all of the difference in close games as it means that Oklahoma are no longer leaving free points on the table. This could be a point of emphasis against the Clippers as Ivica Zubac is somewhat foul-prone. Zubac averages 2.1 fouls per game and will struggle against Paul’s ability to create contact.
Terrance Ferguson played well against the Sixers and he seemed to find his rhythm from deep. Ferguson has struggled with his deep shot to start the season but it seemed like he rectified that issue the other night. Ferguson shot 5/7 from deep but it was his preparation before he took the shot which was surprising to me. In previous years, Ferguson would get the ball and just shoot the ball as soon as it hit his hands. Against the Sixers, Ferguson shot the ball but it looked like he has determined the course of action before he had even received the pass.
Terrance looked more comfortable off the bounce as well, his dribble looked more controlled as he went inside for layups. This will be a positive for Oklahoma City going forward as it means that the team has another shot-creator who is comfortable getting looks from deep and inside.
Los Angeles Leads
1. Return of the Klaw
Kawhi Leonard is likely to return from injury and will play with Paul George for the first time. Leonard has missed the last two games as he manages the left knee injury that he sustained during the 2017 NBA Playoffs against the Warriors. The combination of Leonard/George will be scary on the defensive end and Oklahoma City will have a tough time scoring without Billy Donovan tweaking the offensive system. George and Leonard athleticism and length means that it will be hard to slip passes into the lane for the Thunder’s guards.
2. What about Sweet Lou?
Leonard and George is arguably the league’s best two-way wing combination but it will be interesting to see how Doc Rivers manages Lou Williams’ offensive output. The existence of two wings who will command a decent amount of shot attempts will mean that Lou Williams will have less opportunity to cook on that end of the floor. It is possible that Rivers staggers minutes for George and Leonard so that Sweet Lou has plenty of possessions where he can handle the ball.
Random Side note
This will be the first time that George faces off against the Thunder since departing in the summer. George, who requested a trade to the Clippers, will face his old team at Staples first before eventually returning to Oklahoma on December 22nd.
Who do you think will win tonight?
This poll is closed