Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Los Angeles Clippers: The Match Ups

Tonight the Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers kick off their second round series in Oklahoma City. Both teams needed seven games to advance to the second round and the teams split the season series, each recording two victories. All four regular season games were offensive affairs with each team scoring over 100 points in every game, with the exception of the Thunder holding the Clippers to just 91 points in the second meeting.

Let’s take a look at how the two teams match up at each position.

Point Guard: Russell Westbrook vs. Chris Paul

*Many consider Paul to be the best point guard in the league, and that’s tough to argue, but few people can reach the level that Westbrook is capable of reaching. Paul might be the more consistent, he’s almost guaranteed to get you 15 points and 8 assists minimum in every game, but Westbrook has the potential to get you 30 points, 10 assists, and 10 rebounds. You take the good with the bad with Westbrook, knowing that his good might be the best on the court. Plus, Paul is banged up and Westbrook can not only expose him with his speed and quickness, but he can get to him psychically as well. It’s a coin flip, but when it comes down to it, I’ll take the guy who can takeover the game over the guy that can control the game.

Advantage: Oklahoma City

Shooting Guard: Caron Butler vs. J.J. Redick

*I’m just assuming that Butler will continue to start in place of Thabo Sefolosha. Redick is a deadly shooter who can create his own shot while Butler is more of a catch and shoot guy at this point in his career. Butler has the defensive edge though and he’ll need to go a good job running Redick off the line in this series. Redick hasn’t been good against Oklahoma City this year, but I’ll give him a slight edge just because he’s the more consistent offensive player and will likely get good looks in this series thanks to Paul’s playmaking.

Advantage: Los Angeles

Small Forward: Kevin Durant vs. Matt Barnes

*Obviously this isn’t all that close. Barnes has the ability to knockdown shots, but KD is KD and he’s going to get his. Barnes is a good defender, but Durant just went up against the best perimeter defender in the league and did his thing, especially in the last two games. Durant has to be mindful of Barnes on defense though. Too many times he let Tony Allen get a clean cut to the basket, leading to easy points. Barnes is a shooting threat and Durant can’t let him get open looks.

Advantage: Oklahoma City

Power Forward: Serge Ibaka vs. Blake Griffin

*Griffin elevated himself to another level this year and has become a nightmare of anyone to defend. Ibaka has the speed and athleticism to match Griffin, but if Blake gets psychical, Ibaka will have trouble. These two developed a bit of a rivalry during the season, always battling down in the paint, and that should continue in this series. While Blake is playing the best basketball of his career, Ibaka is no slouch himself. He’s a threat to score from mid range can be dangerous when he puts the ball on the floor. Ibaka might not score a ton, but if he can make Griffin work hard defensively, and get him in foul trouble or wear him out to the point that his offensive game suffers; that’s a huge win for OKC. Ibaka also brings strong shot blocking to the table, something the Clippers didn’t have to deal with in round one.

Advantage: Los Angeles

Center: Kendrick Perkins vs. DeAndre Jordan

*Don’t read too much into Jordan’s first round numbers. He was playing against a small Golden State Warriors team that had no Andrew Bogut. Perkins will give OKC next to nothing offensively, but he’s going to harass Jordan on the defensive end. Jordan is a skilled center and Perkins must do a good job boxing out and limiting his offensive rebounds. Even though OKC just faced a two with two strong big men in Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, neither of them are rim protectors like Jordan. So, like the Clippers will have to deal with Ibaka, the Thunder will have to deal with Jordan.

Advantage: Los Angeles

Sixth Man: Reggie Jackson vs. Jamal Crawford

*Crawford just won his second Sixth Man of the Year award, so logic tells you that he has the advantage. But Jackson would’ve been in that mix if Westbrook didn’t miss over 30 games. Crawford is an excellent scorer, but he’s also an irrational confidence guy. If Paul isn’t on the court, there’s a chance that Crawford plays a lot of one-on-one ball and gets his team in trouble. Jackson has just as much ability to score as Crawford and he’s a better rebounder as well. Defensively, neither guy is all that great and there’s a chance that they could be guarding each other in late game situations. Like Paul vs. Westbrook, Crawford might be more consistent, but Jackson’s best is better than Crawford’s.

Advantage: Oklahoma City

Bench: Derek Fisher, Nick Collison, Steven Adams, Thabo Sefolosha vs. Glen Davis, Danny Granger, Darren Collison, Jared Dudley

*I just went with the four players who will likely get the most playing time in this series. Obviously there’s a chance that Scott Brooks will finally free Jeremy Lamb or use Perry Jones and his athleticism or Doc Rivers will use Reggie Bullock and Willie Green to spread the floor even more, but chances are these will be the four guys who see the most action. Fisher brings veteran leadership, gritty defense, and three point shooting, and while I’ve been very critical of him and how much Brooks uses him, he could play a big role in this series with his psychical defense on Paul. Adams and Sefolosha could also pay dividends on the defensive end, especially if Adams can frustrate Griffin and Jordan into taking bad fouls. Glen Davis looks like “Biggest Baby” at this point, but he can still eat up minutes and play strong down low. Collison is a capable backup point guard, although unlike with Westbrook and Jackson, there is an extremely noticable dropoff when Collison is running the offense and not Paul. Granger and Dudley are good catch and shoot guys but not much more at this point. I think OKC has the more reliable bench and if Brooks uses guys like Lamb and Jones, this margin becomes even bigger.

Advantage: Oklahoma City

Coaching: Scott Brooks vs. Doc Rivers

*Rivers is a championship winning coach who is great out of timeouts and making in-game adjustments. Brooks is really a players coach who lets Westbrook and Durant run the show. I’ve been critical of Brooks all season, but his coaching job in game six and seven of the first round might’ve been the best he’s ever done. Whether he’s actually learned from mistakes or was forced into things given the situation is still up for debate. Los Angeles got Rivers for the playoffs and this is where he can prove his value.

Advantage: Los Angeles

Prediction

The Clippers finished two games behind the Thunder in the regular season for a reason and they are a tough match up for anyone with their inside game and outside shooting. The Clippers shoot a lot of threes, the majority of them good looks thanks to Paul and Griffin, and the Thunder must defend against that if they want to win this series. When Durant and Westbrook are in sync, they are the best duo in the league and the Thunder are nearly impossible to beat. They’ve been in sync for two straight games and have a chance to stay in rhythm thanks no layoff. It’s going to be a tough series with a lot of swings, but OKC having home court is huge and could make the ultimate difference.

Thunder in Seven

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