Thunder (16-3) at Clippers (11-6), 10:30 p.m. EST tip

Thunder (4-game winning streak)
105.4 Offensive Efficiency (4th)
98.5 Defensive Efficiency (13th)
+6.9 Differential (5th)
95.2 Pace (11th)

Clippers (2-game winning streak)
102.7 Offensive Efficiency (8th)
102.2 Defensive Efficiency (24th)
+0.5 Differential (18th)
93.9 Pace (17th)

This is a highly anticipated matchup between the two teams I picked to make it to the Western Conference Finals this year. I may have gone a little overboard with the impact I thought Chris Paul would make and also picking him to win the MVP this year. That may not happen but nonetheless the Clippers have become one of the better teams in the conference and have beaten some good teams this year like the Lakers, Nuggets and Heat. Oklahoma City is coming off a stretch of games where they haven’t played many good teams and the Clippers are on a back-to-back returning home after beating Denver on the road last night. There will be plenty of star power in the game with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Blake Griffin and Paul. But it may come down to which team’s role players produce to determine a winner between these two teams.

Thunder keys to the game

1. Defending the pick-and-roll

The Clippers run pick-and-rolls almost exclusively on offense. Their pick-and-roll and spot-up shooting account for 40 percent of their offense. Other than running a few players off screens or posting up Griffin a few times per game, it’s all pick-and-roll. Obviously the Thunder will have to concentrate on their pick-and-roll defense which has been a little suspect this season. Paul is the main focus with the pick-and-roll as he is not afraid to dribble the ball for the entire shot clock sometimes. Cutting off his penetration lanes and taking away the roll man with solid rotation will be key tonight. The Heat’s gameplan was to double Paul on the pick-and-roll and that had some success. If Paul doesn’t have anything he will often take his time and then try to go one-on-one. Even though he is a great isolation scorer I prefer the Thunder’s chances making Paul choose this role on offense.

2. Don’t let Chauncey get hot

Chauncey Billups is coming off a great shooting night in Denver last night and will certainly be ready to pull the trigger some more tonight. Billups has shown he can carry the Clippers on offense from time to time to get the wins so the Thunder will have to make sure Billups isn’t comfortable tonight. That means playing sound defense and remembering where he is at all times. Billups is a very savvy player and good at drawing fouls on jump shots. Allowing him to get to the line with a few plays like that gives him confidence that can fuel him to become a better player than he should be. The Thunder are very athletic on the perimeter and shouldn’t have any problem keeping Billups under wrap tonight.

3. Play with energy

There surely will be a lot of energy in this game with the Clippers hosting the team with the best record in the NBA and the Thunder need to make sure they come out with enough energy. The Clippers are going to go for a lot of highlights in the game when it comes to alley-oops and big shot blocks but the Thunder can easily match this. The Clippers aren’t a great defensive rebounding team and the Thunder have done a nice job on the offensive glass lately. The bench and James Harden are going to need to produce tonight. The Clippers won’t make it easy to score inside. They did a great job deterring Dwyane Wade and LeBron James when they played the Heat. Instead of looking to score every time, Harden should be ready to pass off on penetration to cutters like Collison and Ibaka. The Clippers are very shot block happy and the Thunder can easily take advantage of this with patient offense. Lastly, the Thunder need to run when they can. The Clippers are good with their halfcourt defense but poor in transition defense.

Prediction: Oklahoma City wins 95-92.

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Tags: James Harden Kevin Durant Nick Collison Russell Westbrook Serge Ibaka

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