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August 14: Oklahoma City Thunder vs Los Angeles Clippers - Preview & Game Thread

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Oklahoma City look to win their last seeding game

Miami Heat v Oklahoma City Thunder Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Thunder came back from a huge deficit to win against the Miami Heat on Wednesday night. Mike Muscala knocked a game-winning shot from deep and secured a slender victory for the Thunder. Oklahoma City will look to bring this positive momentum into tonight's game against the Clippers.

The game starts at 6:30 PM (EST) and the game will be broadcast on ESPN. The fixture will also be shown on Fox Sports Oklahoma. For international viewers, the game can be watched on NBA League Pass.

Both teams will have players unavailable for the game against the Clippers. Luguentz Dort suffered a right knee sprain against the Heat and will not play against LA. Dort’s medical situation has been described as ‘day-to-day’ by the Thunder medical staff. I would expect Dort to be available by the start of the postseason.

Dennis Schroder will not play against the Clippers. Schroder is still serving his quarantine period after his return to the Bubble. Chris Paul picked up a hand sprain against Miami and will not play in tonight’s game.

The Clippers are also missing three players for tonight's game. Patrick Beverley is unavailable due to a calf injury. Montrezl Harrell has recently returned to the Bubble after the passing of his grandmother. Harrell is in quarantine and has not returned to the team yet. Landry Shamet is also out due to injury.

The last game between the two teams was a victory for the Clippers. Los Angeles won 109-94 and rode their defense to an excellent win. The Clippers’ length and athleticism was a real issue for the Thunder’s offense.

Three Points to Note for the Thunder:

Bazley:

Darius Bazley has played really well over the last three games. Bazley has scored over 20 points for three consecutive games; he is only one of two Thunder rookies to achieve this statistical feat.

Bazley has propped up the bench unit’s scoring during the period of time when Dennis Schroder has been unavailable. Bazley is shooting a scorching hot 60% from 3-point land on 6.7 3PA. Bazley has been a marksman from outside and has been a tough cover for defenses.

I do not expect Bazley’s efficiency to remain at this level in the future. There will be some regression to the mean over the coming games. However, Bazley’s play has provided a lot of encouraging signs for the future.

Bazley has shown an ability to consistently knock down looks from deep and create for himself off the drive. Darius has been used as a point guard in small ball lineups by Billy Donovan. This coaching decision has worked well; Bazley has been able to blow immobile bigs and get easy looks at the rim.

It will be interesting to see whether Bazley can replicate these performances against a team who have a lot of rugged, versatile defenders. This will be the ultimate test of Bazley during the Bubble; I want to see whether Darius Bazley can produce against contending teams.

Defensive Assignments:

Over the second half of the season, Luguentz Dort has been used as the Thunder’s wing stopper. Dort has played against taller, stronger players and he has done well. One of Dort’s best defensive performances came against the Lakers; Dort bothered LeBron James into an inefficient shooting night.

Luguentz Dort will be unavailable for the Clippers game which presents an issue for Billy Donovan. The Clippers have two All-Star wings and both players are highly efficient, versatile scorers. Luguentz Dort would have guarded one of Leonard or George. It will be interesting to see who Billy Donovan chooses to take on this assignment.

The Thunder are lucky that there are a few elite defensive stoppers on the roster. Terrance Ferguson could play this role ably; Ferguson was the Thunder’s lead perimeter defender for the first half of the season.

Terrance’s defense was always good but it was his offense that was non-existent. You can trust Ferguson to bother and harry his assignment into a difficult shooting night. The other option would be Andre Roberson.

Despite his injuries, Roberson has shown an ability to play at an elite level defensively. Andre is slower but his mind is sharper than ever. Andre has the defensive intelligence and length to make life uncomfortable for the Clippers’ wings.

Andre has played sparingly in the Bubble so far but it might be time for him to get extended minutes.

The Paul Void:

Chris Paul has been the leader of the Thunder’s offense this season. Paul contributes a lot to the Thunder’s ability to win close games. The ball defaults to Paul when the game gets tight and Oklahoma City need someone to generate buckets.

Paul will be unavailable to play against his old team due to injury. Paul has missed games during the season; Billy Donovan has sat Chris on the second night of back to backs. However, the Thunder have always had two point guards who can pick up the slack.

At present, Oklahoma City only have Shai Gilgeous-Alexander available to Billy Donovan. He is the only one out of the ‘Three Amigos’ who can play against his former team. There was already a void of playmaking left by Schroder’s absence; this void grows even bigger without Chris Paul running the game.

There will be a lot of pressure on Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to run the offense and I can see his offensive load increasing even more. It will also mean that Shai will spend more time working with the starting lineup. Billy Donovan will not be able to stagger his lineups and run Shai with the bench if Paul cannot play.

The Thunder have to work out a way to make the bench unit effectively offensively. Darius Bazley at point guard seems to work and this is something that the Thunder should continue with it against the Clippers.

I also believe that introducing more movement into the bench’s offensive scheming will mask some of the playmaking weaknesses. There has to be a lot more cutting and screening as the Thunder flow into their actions. Movement creates separation and Oklahoma City will need as much space as possible to create effectively on offense.

Los Angeles Paper Clips:

Depth:

The Clippers have one of the deepest teams in the NBA. It is a roster that is laden with talent and versatility. The Thunder have to be aware of the fact that the Clippers can go big or small at the center spot without losing any effectiveness.

Los Angeles can deploy Ivica Zubac if they want to bang bodies with the Thunder down low. Alternatively, Doc Rivers can stick Marcus Morris at the five and play five-out. Morris is an adept shooter and shot-creator. The Celtics often used Morris as a weak-side threat whenever they ran pick and roll actions.

Morris is such a threat from that spot on the floor. Morris is competent shooter from the corner three and he is comfortable putting the ball on the floor for a look at the rim. I can see Doc making this choice to try and run Adams off the court.

The Trade:

It is more than year ago since the Thunder decided to close the book on the Russell Westbrook era and started rebuilding for the future. It was the 10th of July when we learned that Paul George would be traded to the Clippers for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari and an arsenal of draft picks.

At the time, it was a seismic but necessary trade. We did not know what to expect out of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander or Danilo Gallinari. Shai came with a good reputation but his numbers did not indicate that he could be a future All-Star.

The trade looks so much better now. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has blossomed as a player and I believe that All-NBA is within his future. Gilgeous-Alexander has been the leading scorer on a team which has made the playoffs and might even make it to the second round.

Danilo Gallinari has shown why he is so highly regarded by players and coaches alike. Gallinari has brought a steady stream of points to the Thunder’s offense. Danilo has been a reliable contributor that the Thunder have been able to turn to when the offense goes stagnant.

The future of the trade also feels a lot brighter. Oklahoma City have a cornerstone piece n Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and will have the opportunity to add more young talent in future drafts. These picks could be excellent if the Clippers do not retain Leonard or George.

Make no mistake, the Clippers have a short competitive window. Leonard and George are only locked down until 2021. Los Angeles failing to win a title this year or next year will be enough reason for Leonard or George to leave.

We hear a lot of talk about players loving their situations and the teams that they play for. In my view, this talk is always contingent at winning. No player in their prime years wants to be on a team that will not win titles. If George or Leonard leaves, the Clippers’ competitiveness falls off a cliff. These picks could be very good in a few years time.

Random Side-Note:

The win over the Heat locked the Thunder into a playoff match-up against the Houston Rockets. It is arguably the most interesting first round series in the NBA at the moment. Russell Westbrook will have to beat his former team to advance in the playoffs. Chris Paul has the opportunity to exact revenge on the team who traded him.

The storylines and the history between the two teams makes this a very entertaining match-up. It is a series that the Thunder have a good chance at winning. Russell Westbrook has a strained quadricep muscle; he will be unavailable for the first few team of the series. Houston will have a difficult time finding a way to make up for Russell’s absence.