Oklahoma City Thunder at Los Angeles Clippers
Fox Sports Prime Ticket and NBA TV
KFWB 980 AM
The Clippers return home to face the best team in the Western Conference after notching only their second road win of the year last night in Denver. ClipperBlog’s Charlie Widdoes, Breene Murphy and Jordan Heimer preview the first of four matchups with the Thunder.
1. What’s the most important individual matchup in this game?
Charlie Widdoes, ClipperBlog: Blake Griffin against Serge Ibaka. Iblocka is a dynamic defender — he comes in third in the league in block rate — with the length and athleticism to give Griffin fits. The Clippers can’t rely on jumpers like they did in Denver, so Blake’s ability to get to the hoop will be crucial if they are going to win.
Breene Murphy, ClipperBlog: It seems like there’s more mismatches than matchups in this game, so I’ll go with Paul versus Westbrook. Both are crucial to each other’s teams and could learn a lesson from the other. If Paul is as aggressive as Westbrook normally is, I think the Clips win. Though if Westbrook is as aware and shares the way Paul normally does, then the Thunder are brutally tough to beat.
Jordan Heimer, ClipperBlog: Kevin Durant vs. Caron Butler. Although that “vs” glamorizes Butler’s role a bit. Caron will do his best to frustrate Durant with the same low-crouch hands-up defense he used guarding Kobe, preferring to be shot over than driven past. But the truth is the Clippers don’t have an obvious match-up that will bother Durant (who does, right?) At a certain point you kind of just have to hope he misses some shots.
2. Is there a better 6th man in the league than James Harden?
Charlie Widdoes, ClipperBlog: Not for my money. His offensive rating of 130 points per 100 possessions is off the charts. He is as well-rounded and efficient as scorers come, shooting 48% from the floor, 39% from downtown and 88% from the line. He’s capable of initiating the offense or scoring off the ball. He is a smart defender. Mo Williams might be the 2nd best 6th man in the NBA, but he is not Harden.
Breene Murphy, ClipperBlog: This year, both Lou Williams and Mo Williams have been giving James Harden a run for his money so far. Jason Terry and Jamal Crawford have the wily vet experience from the bench. But overall, I’d probably want Harden. He’s been blowing up from the bench, he’s the youngest player of the group and he’s also the only one that could be a decent defensive player.
Jordan Heimer, ClipperBlog: No. It’s hard to imagine someone shooting much better so far this season than Mo Williams, right? Well James Harden has – and it’s not even that close. In a season where shooting accuracy for wing players is down across the board, Harden’s .672 true shooting percentage is ridiculous.
3. True or False: The Clippers take down the Thunder tonight.
Charlie Widdoes, ClipperBlog: True, but only if Chris Paul plays like he did in the 2nd half in Denver. He is one of the few guards capable of staying in front of Westbrook, but the Clippers will also need him to carry the load on offense. He must be his usual, pre-injury self to get his bigs involved in the flow and prevent Billups and Butler from feeling the need to create for themselves.
Breene Murphy, ClipperBlog: False. I know, I know. The Clippers had the Thunders’ number last year (even their only win in the first 14 games was against the Thunder), but this year’s Clip team isn’t last year’s. There aren’t good options to defend their wing players (Durant and Harden), and the Clips starters played a full load last night.
Jordan Heimer, ClipperBlog: True. Last year’s baby Clips split the season series with the Thunder, beating them twice at home. Last night’s victory in Denver was of secondary importance to the re-emergence of the Chris Paul we saw in the games just before his injury: aggressive, shot-seeking, relentlessly breaking down the defense with his dribble. More of the same tonight results in another big Clips win.