Start time - 9:30 p.m (CT)
Broadcaster - Bally Sports Oklahoma
The Thunder continue their California road trip against a team whose fate is entwined with Oklahoma City. The Clippers and the Thunder are bonded together by the Paul George trade. Thunder fans have a vested interest in the Clippers’ performance this season as Oklahoma City control the Clippers’ first round pick.
Los Angeles stinking out the joint and finishing in the bottom five will mean that the Thunder get another top lottery pick which can be used to bolster the team’s core. That Clippers pick could be someone like Yannick Nzosa or Jalen Duren; a player who raises the long-term ceiling of this era of the Thunder.
This will be one of those games where winning is beneficial for the Thunder. It is also a game where the Thunder will be looking for a little payback. The stakes entering the last day of last season could not be clearer. A loss for the Thunder would have meant a top-5 pick in the Draft and a chance of getting somebody like Scottie Barnes.
A loss for the Clippers had similar ramifications. Los Angeles would avoid a difficult first round matchup in Denver and would gain a more favourable matchup in the Dallas Mavericks. What resulted was a basketball game in which neither team wanted to win.
The Thunder ran a lot of offense through guys like Josh Hall, Moses Brown and Charlie Brown Jr in a desperate attempt to secure one final loss. The Clippers matched that effort by giving Daniel Oturu and Jay Scrubb the ball every time down the floor.
Oklahoma City won the game but it was a pyrrhic win. It was incredibly deflating to see a top-5 pick slip through the Thunder’s hands after everything that we had been through. We all watched two months of the Thunder getting torched by every team in the league to end up with No. 6. It was not the ideal result.
The Thunder winning this game extracts a measure of revenge while also improving the chance that the Clippers finish with a terrible record this season. I want Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey to make a statement out of Steve Ballmer’s men.
Paul George has excelled in Kawhi’s absence. George stepped up as the team’s leader in last year’s postseason and that level of play has carried over into this season. Paul George is playing like an MVP candidate and seems intent on dragging the Clippers to playoffs.
The Clips are currently struggling for playmaking which is unsurprising given that Kawhi Leonard is unavailable. Eric Bledsoe was acquired in a trade with the Grizzlies in which the Clippers gave up Rajon Rondo and Patrick Beverley. The hope was that Bledsoe would bring tenacious defense and savvy ball-handling to the Clips’ reserve units.
Bledsoe has played sterling defense but he has been abysmal at running the offense. He is jacking shots and is not actively looking to get his team involved in the game. Eric’s lack of scoring threat from outside has also harmed the Clippers’ spacing and made it more difficult for guys to find space inside.
Reggie Jackson flourished in last year’s postseason and finally seemed to turn a corner. However, Jackson seems to have regressed back to his Detroit form. Reggie is taking 16.6 FGA per game and only making 31.3% of his shot attempts. That is inefficient volume shooting of Westbrookian proportions.
The Clippers are beatable but the Thunder cannot afford to be complacent. I would really like to see the bench unit capitalise on the Clippers’ struggles and build a lead that is unassailable.