LA Clippers (22-13) @ Oklahoma City Thunder (20-13)
Chesapeake Energy Arena
5:00 p.m. PST
December 31, 2016
At one point, the LA Clippers had the NBA’s best record. But the Clippers have slumped badly, and now they have a 5-game losing streak entering the last day of 2016, the longest losing streak in the NBA right now. They will be hardpressed to break the streak Saturday night in Oklahoma City, where the Thunder have won 7 of their last 8 games on New Year’s Eve.
The Clippers won in Oklahoma City last month, defeating the Thunder 110-108 behind a double-double from C DeAndre Jordan (12 points, 13 rebounds). Just nine days prior to that meeting, the Thunder went to STAPLES Center and handed the Clippers their first loss of the season 85-83, with Oklahoma City Cs Steven Adams (11 rebounds) and Enes Kanter (12 rebounds) helping the Thunder outrebound the Clippers 52-41. The last three meetings between the Clippers and Thunder have each been decided by only two points, as the Thunder last beat the Clippers at home in March 2016 119-117 in a game that did not feature Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, Paul Pierce, Blake Griffin, or DeAndre Jordan. The Clippers got 32 points each from Austin Rivers and Jamal Crawford in that game, but they couldn’t overcome former Thunder SF Kevin Durant dropping 31 points or Thunder PG Russell Westbrook going off for 26 points, 8 rebounds, and 11 assists.
The Clippers are coming off their worst defensive performance in eight seasons, allowing the Rockets to score 140 points in Houston. The Clippers allowed Rockets PG James Harden to drop a 30-point triple-double, Houston backup C Montrezl Harrell scored a career-high 29 points, and the Clippers were outscored by an NBA-season-high 23 points from the FT line. With PF Blake Griffin (knee) and PG Chris Paul (hamstring) out injured and SG J.J. Redick returning from a two-game absence, the Clippers lost starting PG Austin Rivers and head coach Doc Rivers to ejections in the 1st half. Redick should be fine for Saturday night, but Wesley Johnson is questionable with an ankle injury, Paul is doubtful with the hamstring injury, and Griffin will miss his 8th straight game due to knee surgery.
The Thunder have a logistical advantage, as they host the Clippers after having a day off. They are also looking to get over a terrible outing in Memphis Thursday night, where they lost 114-80 and saw Westbrook get ejected in the 3rd quarter to end a 0-assist, 6-turnover performance. The Thunder also allowed Memphis backups Zach Randolph (21 points, 10-of-17 FGs) and Troy Daniels (22 points, 6-of-8 threes) to score over 20 points each off the bench.
LA is going to have to deal with Westbrook without Paul, and that could set up a 40-point triple-double. After all, Westbrook is averaging a 31-point triple-double this season, and his offensive rating jumped to 116.3 in the four minutes that he faced the Clippers with Paul on the bench this season. In 64 minutes with Paul on the floor, Westbrook’s offensive efficiency dropped to 90.0. While the Clippers are still a top-ten team on offense (6th in efficiency) and defense (8th in efficiency) for the season, they have been the NBA’s worst team since December 23, ranking 26th in offense and 29th in defense during their 5-game losing streak. The biggest issue for the Clippers on both ends of the floor has been the FT line, and now they have to deal with the league leader in FT attempts per game in Westbrook, who averages 10.8 per game. The Thunder will also welcome back SG Victor Oladipo, who hasn’t played since injuring his right wrist on December 11. Oladipo has been Oklahoma City’s best three-point shooter this season, making 2.1 threes per game at 38.1 percent, and he is Westbrook’s best relief in points (16.1 per game) and assists (2.8 per game) this season.
Chris Paul is doubtful tonight as the Clippers take a 5-game L streak into Oklahoma City for NYE. Who needs to step up the most tonight?
— ClipperBlog (@clipperblog) December 31, 2016