Thunder (3-0, 1-0 road) vs. Clippers (3-0, 2-0 home)
TV: ESPN/FS Oklahoma
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 930 AM (Spanish))
Time: 9:30 PM CST
Team Comparisons (per NBA.com/Stats)
- Offensive Rating: Thunder – 98.3 (23rd), Clippers – 105.0 (9th)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 92.2 (3rd), Clippers – 92.2 (2nd)
It was nice of the NBA to give the Oklahoma City Thunder three more preseason games to get ready for the regular season. The NBA must have known the roster turnover for the Thunder was going to be immense, and so, they provided them with extra time to get their proverbial basketball ducks in a row. Apparently one week into the season wasn’t enough time for the Thunder to set their roster as they completed yet another move yesterday, trading Ersan Ilyasova to the Philadelphia 76ers for Jerami Grant. That move essentially completes the Serge Ibaka trade from draft night, netting the Thunder Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis, and Grant. Not bad for an aging PF who looked like he had lost a step.
Regardless of what you think of the Thunder’s first three opponent, they still find themselves as one of the five remaining unbeaten teams in the league. The Thunder did struggle to put the 76ers, Suns, and Lakers away, but on the positive side, they found ways to win each game. I’ve been told that is the mark of a good team. And contrary to what many people think, it wasn’t just the Russell Westbrook show. Oladipo has two consecutive 20 point games after struggling in the opener, and Steven Adams is averaging a near double/double at 13 points and 9 rebounds per game.
This is the first of four meetings between the Thunder and Clippers this season. The Thunder won the season series 3-1 last year, with most of the games being close affairs. The Clippers have visions of moving up in the rankings of the Western Conference and taking over the spot the Thunder used to occupy at or near the top of the West.
The Clippers come into the game as one of the five undefeated teams left in the league. Along with San Antonio and Cleveland, the Clippers have been one of the most balanced teams in the league. They are led by their veteran core of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, JJ Redick, and Jamal Crawford. Since three of those five players are likely to become free agents at the end of the season, there is a sense of desperation in this Clippers’ organization to not only get past the 2nd round of the playoffs, but also win a championship.
Griffin and Paul seem to have no lingering effects from injuries that derailed their seasons last year, with both playing at or near All-NBA levels in the early stages of this season. Griffin and Jordan are both posting double/double numbers from the interior. After posting a career year in terms of efficiency from the field last season, Redick seems to be adjusting back to being the fourth option on the team with everyone coming back healthy. Off the bench, Crawford and Austin Rivers give the Clippers a backcourt combo off the bench that can offensively match most of the starting backcourts in the league. The additions of Raymond Felton and Marreese Speights gives the Clippers some more veteran firepower off the bench.
- Cameron Payne (foot)
3 Big Things1. Blake Griffin
How will the Thunder defend Blake Griffin? The security blankets of Serge Ibaka and Kevin Durant are no longer in Thunder uniforms for these types of match-ups. Will the Thunder really entrust that responsibility on the rookie, Sabonis, whose last few games have been cut short due to foul trouble? Maybe this will be his baptism by fire.
Instead, what I see happening is a steady rotation of Sabonis, Adams, Joffrey Lauvergne and Nick Collison coming in for a couple of minutes at a time to defend Griffin. Adams would be optimal, but then who guards Jordan. Enes Kanter likely won’t be very effective in this game as he will likely get lost in the Chris Paul pick-and-roll and the result will either be a mid-range jumper by Paul or an alley-oop dunk by Griffin or Jordan.2. Perimeter defense
The Thunder currently lead the league in opponent 3-point FG% at 22.6%. You would expect that with the three teams the Thunder played this past week. What’s surprising is that the two teams the Thunder are scheduled to play on this West Coast swing are also in the bottom third of the league in 3-point FG%. If the Thunder can continue this trend, it will give them an advantage that they haven’t had in previous meetings against these teams.3. Bench
Both of these benches are great offensively, but horrible defensively. Which ever bench is the better defensively will likely help in determining the victor of this game. Jerami Grant is scheduled to play for the Thunder and should give them a boost off the bench defensively if he does see some game action.