The teams with the two best records in the NBA will play tonight in Los Angeles as the Clippers host the Oklahoma City Thunder at 10:30 p.m. EST.
The Western Conference is more up for grabs this year since the trading of James Harden by the Thunder before the start of the season. Despite having the best record in the league, the Thunder seem more vulnerable this season that last in some respects.
The San Antonio Spurs were the toughest matchup for the Thunder a year ago. Their ball movement and offensive efficiency was as tough as anything to keep up with but the Thunder did so winning four straight games against them in the Western Conference Finals.
The Los Angeles Lakers were supposed to be the biggest challenge to the Thunder’s western throne this year but are now looking like they won’t even make the playoffs.
Meanwhile, the other LA team is thriving. Behind depth, great defense and the best point guard in the league, the Clippers may very well be OKC’s biggest competition this season.
The Clippers have a few things going for them that make them a tough out for OKC.
You have to start with Paul. Paul is one of the toughest matchups for Russell Westbrook. Westbrook isn’t able to overpower Paul athletically like he does other point guards in the league and Paul is much more heady than Westbrook is. Paul is able to get anywhere he wants on the court vs. Westbrook and can manipulate him as well as anyone.
The Thunder are always at their best when Westbrook is playing well. The Clippers definitely have the advantage at the point guard position in this matchup and that is a very tough thing for the Thunder to overcome.
Next, the Clippers can match the Thunder’s athleticism in a way. The Clippers have the most athletic starting four and five in the league with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. So when Westbrook and Kevin Durant attack the rim, they are met by equals in the athletic department. This is rarely the case for the Thunder who can often rely on superior athleticism to overpower opponents.
The bench is the third factor that makes the Clippers tougher for the Thunder this year than last. The Clippers have one of the best benches in the league this season while the Thunder took a step back with their second unit from last year. The Thunder used to always enjoy a big advantage when their second unit was on the floor because Harden would be the best player on the floor. Now, the Clippers get that honor led by Jamal Crawford, the leading candidate to win the Sixth Man of the Year Award this season.
The Clippers’ bench has been so good that the minutes for their starters has gone way down. They are more than 10 deep on most nights and have the luxury of riding the hot hand. This always works because Paul is so great at the helm and can make any 5-man unit mesh down the stretch.
Finally, the Clippers are the only team that can match the Thunder in terms of having a great closer. Paul was the best closer in the league a year ago while Durant is hot on his heels this year. OKC always knows they will close out games the best because they have Durant but against the Clippers, Paul is able to match that Durant’s ability.
We will see the two best teams in the NBA square off tonight. It might be a preview of the Western Conference Finals in a few months too.