L.A. Clippers vs. OKC Thunder
January 22, 2013 7:30p PT
FOX Prime Ticket | NBA TV
Chris Paul is a game-time decision. What else needs to be said beyond that? Yes, these are currently the two best teams in the NBA. Yes, this game is for the best record in league. But considering how hobbled CP3 looked yesterday against the Warriors, this game can already be played with an asterisk, regardless of the outcome.
1. Who’s the fifth most important player in this game after Durant, Westbrook, Paul and Griffin?
Fred Katz: Serge Ibaka. Ibaka has the ability to completely take over a game on the defensive end and is one of the most underrated jump shooters in the league (he’s hitting 49.5 percent of his mid-range jumpers this year). If he has a big game, it’d be difficult for the Clippers to overcome it.
Jovan Buha: Matt Barnes. His defense on Kevin Durant will likely be the determining factor of the game. Last time these two teams met, Barnes logged 43 minutes (no Caron Butler + OT) and held KD to 35 points (7-19 FG, 19-21 FT). Grant Hill and Lamar Odom may get looks at him, as well, but Butler, Willie Green and Jamal Crawford have no shot at guarding Durant. It’s on Barnes.
D.J Foster: Jamal Martin. What? That’s not an actual person? This is a cop-out of an answer? Fair, but I still think the first bench guy to really get it going can heavily influence this game. In the past, the Clippers have contained Kevin Durant really well. If that magic continues, it’s Kevin Martin — a deadly 3-point shooter and a foul drawing machine — who represents the biggest potential thorn in the side of the Clippers’ defense.
2. Which team needs this game more?
Katz: The Clippers. The Thunder already won the first meeting between these two squads. An Oklahoma City win Tuesday night would give the Thunder the season series against the Clips.
Buha: The Clippers. They’re already behind the Thunder by one game in the loss column and lost to them earlier this season. We all assumed that OKC was a good match-up for the Clippers last season, so it wouldn’t be wise to give them unnecessary confidence heading into a presumed WCF series.
Foster: Let’s go with Oklahoma City, if only because the Clippers have a built-in excuse with Chris Paul not at 100 percent. I’m also of the belief that the Clippers represent the biggest hurdle for the Thunder in reaching in the Finals again, so they’ll treat this game as a big test.
3. True or False: The Western Conference representative in this year’s Finals is playing in Staples tonight.
Katz: True. At this point, it looks like either the Thunder, the Clippers, or the Spurs will be representing the West in the Finals. With two-thirds of those teams playing in the Staples Center on Tuesday night, I’ll take my chances that there won’t be a major Cinderella that wins three playoff series.
Buha: True. I can’t see any other team out West making the finals outside of these two. The Spurs and Grizzlies are talented and legitimate contenders in any other season, but I think the Clippers and Thunder are loaded with depth and athleticism that those two squads lack.
Foster: Until someone pins me down and forces me to pick a Western Conference champion, I’ll play the odds and say this is true. It all feels like a high-stakes game of rock-paper-scissors at this point, so I like my chances if I get to play with two hands.