Clippers (7-1, 3-0 road) vs. Thunder (6-2, 4-1 home)
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 930 AM (Spanish))
Time: 7:00 PM CST
Team Comparisons (per NBA.com/Stats)
- Offensive Rating: Thunder – 97.9 (27th), Clippers – 105.4 (10th)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 96.9 (4th), Clippers – 89.3 (1st)
As the Oklahoma City Thunder journey through these first 20 games of the season, games like the Toronto game are to be expected. The Thunder started off like a team on a mission, building up a 13-point lead in the first quarter through suffocating defense and unselfish offense. Eventually they settled on a 7-point lead heading into the 2nd quarter.
And that’s when the wheels fell off. The bench did not produce on the offensive end, while the leading scorer in the NBA, DeMar DeRozan, got going with the likes of Kyle Singler and Alex Abrines defending him. By the time Russell Westbrook returned into the game from his first quarter rest, the momentum had swung over to the Raptors and they never relinquished it for the rest of the game. There were several points in the game in which it looked like the Thunder may come back, but a turnover here or a defensive breakdown there usually snuffed those chances out pretty quickly.
It was a game that was frustrating to watch from the perspective of Westbrook. He has played so well this season that you almost forget that he has games like this from time to time. As he has aged, these games a lot less in number, but they still do occur. It was one of those games that Thunder fans feared when they realized we were going into this season with Westbrook as our leading man. The games where he tries to do too much, and ends up playing into the opponent’s hands. While it is true that Westbrook had 36 points, he did so on 26 shots (12 from deep) and also had 8 turnovers. The only saving grace for this game is that Westbrook usually bounces back strongly from bad games.
This is the 2nd of four meetings this season between the Thunder and Clippers. The Thunder won the first meeting, 85-83, in a back and forth affair that featured 5 ties and 5 lead changes in the final quarter. These two teams will be very familiar with each in the early going of the season as they play all four games of the series by the middle of January.
The Clippers come into this game with a 7-1 record and appear to be the best team in the Western Conference at the moment. Their defense has been the most surprising of all, as they lead the league in defensive rating (89.3) and points allowed (88.3). They have won their last three games by at least 24 points, with two of those games coming against the Spurs and Trailblazers. The Clippers have cultured a team that comes at you in waves, never letting the opponent catch their breath.
The bench used to be a major weakness for the Clippers in the past, but it is now one of their biggest strengths. The veteran-laden crew is led by Raymond Felton, who is one of the best back-up point guards in the league. Up front, the Clippers have the ability to play different styles, as Marreese Speights can give the team instant offense, while Brandon Bass is more of a bruiser. On the wing for the reserves, Jamal Crawford and Austin Rivers can catch fire at any point in a game and drop 20 in a hurry.
- Cameron Payne (foot)
3 Big Things1. Statement Game
This will be a statement game….for the Clippers. They will be looking to avenge their only loss of the season and will be aggressive from the tip. The Thunder have to go into this game knowing the Clippers will likely be very aggressive offensively from the beginning of the game. The Thunder may have to weather a storm and hope that the Clippers eventually start missing shots.2. Marreese Speights
I don’t know if a clap of thunder upset Speights as a child, but he always seems to burn the Thunder in the regular season. In his last five regular season games against the Thunder, Speights is averaging 13.4 points against them. The Thunder were able to neutralize him in the playoffs with Enes Kanter, but was usually offset by the opponent putting Kanter through the pick and roll to get him in trouble on the defensive end of the floor.3. Perimeter Defense
The shots have begun to fall for the Clippers since they last met the Thunder. Chris Paul, Raymond Felton, and JJ Redick are all shooting over 41% from deep. Compound that with the fact that Crawford and Rivers and can catch fire at any time, and you have a recipe for disaster if the Thunder play the kind of perimeter defense they played against the Raptors.