Current Records: Oklahoma City Thunder (43-13), Los Angeles Clippers (37-20)
Last time they met: Oklahoma City Thunder (105) defeated Los Angeles Clippers (91)
It has been a while since we saw these two conference rivals in action against one another, and a lot has changed since their last meeting way back in late November. Both teams have had to overcome injury issues with their star point guards and they have also seen the development of their respective power forwards during this time.
The Oklahoma City Thunder have ridden the Kevin Durant wave since Christmas but they now welcome back Russell Westbrook who returned in the Thunder’s loss to the Heat a couple of days ago. The Clippers are playing a very good brand of basketball and have seen Blake Griffin really step up and be counted while Chris Paul was out with a shoulder injury. They will be coming into this one on the back of a couple of tough losses to the Memphis Grizzlies and the San Antonio Spurs.
Chesapeake Arena will host the game and the Thunder will be wanting to make up for their home loss to the LeBron James led Miami Heat. Russell Westbrook is back, but the Thunder have now lost the services of starting center Kendrick Perkins, which could be a very big exlcusion when taking on a team with the frontcourt of DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin.
Serge Ibaka vs Blake Griffin
These two young and talented power forwards have been nothing but impressive over the course of this season and even more so when the teams all star point guards have been sidelined. Griffin has really developed range on his jumpshot and is doing a bit of everything for the Clippers – including winning. Ibaka was once seen as someone who was heavily reliant on Westbrook, but he has shown over the past months that he is a star in the making and has been an invaluable source of points, rebounds and defense with Westbrook out. These two don’t have a great deal of love for each other either, so this matchup will be riveting.
Russell Westbrook vs Chris Paul
The two best point guards in the game will be going head to head as they return from injury. Chris Paul missed a great number of games through a shoulder injury and will now have to contend with a sprained thumb. He will play though – no doubt about it. Russell Westbrook is coming off his third knee operation and will be eased back into the lineup. There looks to be a 24 – 26 minute restriction on his minutes, but that will be more than enough to contribute. Both players will want to get their team into the offence and run things effectively – whoever does it best probably wins this one. When the two stars hit the pine and the bench get minutes, look for an intriguing battle between two “starter talent” subs Reggie Jackson and Darren Collison who have both performed superbly in their mentors’ absence.
Steven Adams vs DeAndre Jordan
The rookie from New Zealand is likely to get the starting job in the absence of Kendrick Perkins and while Scott Brooks will try and play small and force the Clippers to play small, there is going to be a lot of time where Adams is going to have to contribute good, solid minutes – without fouling. DeAndre Jordan is an athletic beast on both ends of the floor and really gives the Clippers a lot from the center spot. While not the marquee matchup of this game, the battle of the centers is actually one of the most important ones.
We haven’t mentioned Kevin Durant – not because he is any less important with Russ back, but because we know what we are getting when KD steps on the floor. He is going to have to be brilliant as always if the Thunder want to get back on the winners list and give their home crowd something to cheer about. If he can play at that MVP type level we have come to expect then the Thunder can get this win. Westbrook, Jackson and co will have to limit the effectiveness of Paul though if OKC want to end up on the high side of the final score.
The last time these teams played and Perkins wasn’t playing – they were beaten. Chris Paul was very crafty and exposed Adams speed on the pick and roll. The Thunder will want to rectify that if they want a different outcome.
Oklahoma City Thunder 110, Los Angeles Clippers 102 is the prediction.