L.A. Clippers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
March 3, 2013
12:30 p.m. PST
Do we realize the Clippers sit only 0.5 games back of the Thunder in the Western Conference standings? It may not seem that way, but Los Angeles has won eight of its previous nine games and has put itself in realistic position to snag the No. 2 seed from Oklahoma City. A win Sunday means the Clips would be in possession of that No. 2 seed for the first time since before Chris Paul’s knee injury. But today, with Clippers-Thunder, there’s improv. The Clips are running the fast break and they’ve got an extra man. Now onto today’s 3-on-2:
1. With Tony Parker out four weeks (ankle), who in the Western Conference is in the best position to challenge the Spurs for the No. 1 seed?
Fred Katz, (@FredKatz): It seems more intuitive to say the Thunder, but of Oklahoma City’s 23 remaining games (after this Clippers game) 13 of those are against projected playoff teams. Of the Clippers’ final 20 games only nine of those are against teams that would make the playoffs if the season ended today.
Michael Shagrin, (@mshaggy): The edge still goes to the Thunder. Though the Clippers are only two back of OKC in the loss column, a lurch to the No. 1 seed would take some serious missteps by the Thunder. Moreover, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin were both hobbled with injuries heading into last year’s Playoffs and if the conflict presents itself again, I’d expect the Clippers’ brass to play them conservatively in the stretch run.
2. Over/under 29.5 points for Kevin Durant.
Katz: Over. Durant has averaged 33.5 points in his two previous games against the Clippers (while shooting 19-for-38 from the field) and when you look at the sometimes slow-footed defense of the starting Clipper wings – one of the bigger weaknesses that plagues the team – Durant might pose more of a problem for them than anyone else in the Western Conference.
Shagrin: Over. Kevin Durant is license to go for 30 on any given night and he’s done so on both occasions against the Clippers this season. But what’s really unnerving is how much better OKC plays as a team against the Clippers when Durant’s on the floor. The Clippers give up an astounding 118.7 points per 100 possessions when he’s out there and only 104.5 points per 100 when he’s on the bench.
3. How do the Clippers take advantage of Oklahoma City’s tendency to turn the ball over?
Katz: The Thunder sit 29th in the NBA with a 14.8 percent turnover rate. The Clippers, meanwhile, force turnovers on 15.9 percent of their defensive possessions, the most in the league. This might all come down to Eric Bledsoe, who is better at making defenders uncomfortable and forcing loose balls than any other Clipper. If he can push Russell Westbrook into some bad decisions, that’s the major advantage for the Clippers.
Shagrin: Take advantage early and often. Chris Paul’s first-half deference forces me to harbor a sense of both exasperation and calm, but it would be exclusively exasperation were he to start slow tonight. If Paul immediately takes it upon himself to force turnovers and orchestrate the counter attack from the opening tip, the Clippers could pull out a W.