Thunder (25-17, 10-11 road) vs. Clippers (28-14, 16-6 home)
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 – 105.2 (15th), Clippers – 108.9 (6th)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 103.8 (8th), Clippers – 103.0 (6th)
They say injuries are a part of the game. But when they occur, they usually happen at the most inopportune times. Do they occur when the team is about to play the Nets and the 76ers? Of course not. They usually occur when the team is about to play the Clippers on the 2nd night of a back to back and then play the Warriors two nights later.
The Oklahoma City Thunder were the walking wounded in their last game. Steven Adams banged the back of his head on the hardwood in the third quarter as he was battling for a rebound. He got up a little woozy and was in the locker room for the rest of the evening. Victor Oladipo feel down a couple times last night and got up holding the wrist that caused him to miss 9 games earlier in the month. Even Andre Roberson looked a little beat up by the time the evening ended and had to sit out the final few plays of the game.
The Thunder are a team that cannot afford an injury to one of their key rotational players. This is a team that is currently standing on a house of cards. Take one of those cards out for a significant amount of time, and the entire house could fall. Oladipo and Roberson are scheduled to play in this game, but Adams is being held out as he goes through the league’s concussion protocol.
Season Series Summary
This is the fourth and final meeting of the regular season between the Thunder and Clippers. The Thunder lead the season series 2-1. The first two meetings between these two teams were decided by two points each, with the road team coming out the victor in each of those contests. Then on New Year’s Eve, the Thunder destroyed an uninspired Clippers team that was missing both Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, 114-88.
The Clippers come into this game with a 28-14 record, having won their last 6 games. Previous to that, they had lost 6 games in a row. The roller coaster in the record the past few weeks was due to Chris Paul’s health status. In mid December, Paul injured his hamstring. With Griffin already out, the Clippers struggled with their two stars being out. Once Paul returned to the lineup, the Clippers started playing like themselves again and the results have been as such. Another reason for the uptick in wins lately probably has a lot to do with defense, as they’ve held 5 of their last 6 opponents under 100 points.
Paul is having another great season, averaging 17.7 points, 9.8 assists, and 2.3 steals per game. He leads a team that features 5 current rotation players that average double figures in scoring. It’s a balanced attack that involves not just the starters, but also key players off the bench. Players like Marreese Speights and Brandon Bass have stepped up in Griffin’s absence.
Steven Adams (concussion protocol)
3 Big Things
1. Enes Kanter
With Steven Adams out, the starting nod will likely go to Kanter. With the way Kanter has played over the past month, that might not be a bad thing. Excluding the Milwaukee game, in which Kanter played uncharacteristically bad, he has averaged 19.6 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 1.6 assists over the past month. He’s more of an offensive threat than Adams and may be able to pull his man further away from the basket due to his ability to hit an outside jumper from time to time.
Defensively is where Adams’ absence will be felt, especially in this game. Other than James Harden, the Thunder haven’t really played any pick and roll specialist over the past month. But Chris Paul lives for the pick and roll, and can pick defenses apart from a mile away. Kanter will have to play his best defensively because Paul and DeAndre Jordan will be putting him to the test nearly every time down the floor.
2. Perimeter Defense
The Clippers feature 5 rotation players that shoot 39% or better from 3-point territory. Their wings are streaky, but if they get hot, watch out. The Thunder have seen each of Paul, Jamal Crawford, Austin Rivers, and JJ Redick get hot in a game against them in previous seasons. This is a game where Andre Roberson’s defensive abilities will stand out. If he is able to lock the Clippers wings down, the Thunder may have a chance in this game.
3. Cam Payne
I caught a little flack yesterday on Twitter for suggesting the Thunder might be better off playing Semaj Christon than Cam Payne. But tonight might be the game Payne was waiting for. Since he’s come back from the broken foot, Payne was thrust into an offense where the ball was completely taken out of his hands. He was basically just a vehicle to bring the ball past half-court. Once there, his mission was to get the ball into Kanter in the post and let him operate. Payne is not that kind of point guard. He has too much skill to just be a “bring the ball up the court and get out of the way” type of point guard. But with Adams out and Kanter being in the starting line-up, this may free up Payne to operate in a fashion more suitable to him.