PREGAME REPORT | MARCH 3, 2013

 



Tipoff: 12:30 p.m. PST | Staples Center | Los Angeles, CA | Game Notes »

                       

ERIC PATTEN

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LOS ANGELES – This one ought to be good.

The Clippers (43-18) return home from a successful two-game jaunt to play the high-powered Oklahoma City Thunder (42-16) with the No. 2 spot in the Western Conference up for grabs.

“There’s still a lot of basketball left,” Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said. “Whenever you’re playing one of the top teams, you want to see where you’re at. We haven’t played particularly well the last time we played them, so we need to have a good performance on Sunday.”

Despite playing without Chauncey Billups, Caron Butler and Grant Hill in the first matchup on Nov. 21, the Clippers had the ball on the final possession of regulation with a chance to win. Chris Paul missed a tough jumper over Russell Westbrook and Oklahoma City won by six in overtime. Two months later, the Clippers were overwhelmed at home by a dominant second half from Kevin Durant, and lost 109-97 at home without Paul (bruised right kneecap) and Billups.

According to Paul, Sunday’s game, which is the Clippers’ second appearance on ABC’s national NBA showcase, should give the team a better idea of where they stand against Oklahoma City. “I hope it will,” he said. “It’s going to be a big game for us. We’ve got to come out ready to play and take care of home.”

LAST TIME OUT

Clippers 105, Cavaliers 89: On the second night of a road back-to-back the Clippers powered through the Kyrie Irving-less Cavaliers. It was the first win in Cleveland since 2002 and their fifth consecutive win overall.

Blake Griffin scored 16 points with 11 rebounds, three assists, three steals and three blocks. Paul had 15 assists without committing a turnover. And Jamal Crawford, who had a game-high 24 points, was one of six Clippers in double figures.

Paul said the ball movement and balanced scoring is one of the Clippers’ biggest keys to their recent success. “I think the biggest thing with our team is we’re keep talking about making the extra pass. As long as you play the right way, good things are going to happen.”

Nuggets 105, Thunder 103: Durant tied the game in the final 30 seconds with a baseline jumper, but Denver’s Ty Lawson answered with a 23-footer over Thabo Sefolosha to win it for the host Nuggets. The Thunder are 4-4 in their last eight games, including three losses on the road.

Durant finished with 25 points, but missed three straight shots in the final 1:40 before tying the game at 103. Westbrook scored a game-high 38 on 12-of-23 shooting. Oklahoma City went 24-of-34 from the foul line, including 12-of-17 from the high-scoring point guard.

While the Nuggets were just 12-of-17 as a team, they countered with 71 points from their bench, including a career-high-tying 35 from Wilson Chandler.

NOTEWORTHY MATCHUP

Chris Paul & Blake Griffin vs. Kevin Durant & Russell Westbrook. Sunday’s game could be all about the stars. The Clippers lost twice to Oklahoma City this year, in part, because Paul had a 2-for-14 performance in the road loss and did not play in the second matchup. In 10 career games against the Thunder, Griffin has averaged 22.3 points, equaling his best against any Western Conference opponent.

If Paul and Griffin counter the high-scoring prowess of Durant and Westbrook it will go a long way in helping them take over second in the West. But it will be a tall order, pun slightly intended. Durant is the league’s leading scorer and is second in total fourth quarter points (Kobe Bryant is first and Crawford is third).

“Everyone tries to deal with them, but they’re hard to deal with,” Del Negro said. “That’s why they have such a good record and why they went to the Finals last year. They’ve been together. We’re going to have to do a job with coverages overall and our efficiency overall. In the open court, we know how tough Russell is and obviously Kevin [Durant] and also Kevin Martin, we’ve got to find him. They have a lot of weapons.”

“They’re tough to stop,” Griffin added. “They score in a hurry and they can score a lot. Slowing them down and making other guys beat us [is important].”

Westbrook, however, has had his problems against the Clippers. He scored 26 points in the last game at Staples Center, but otherwise has scored fewer than 20 points in 12 of his 17 career games. He’s shot just 35.2% in those games.

TWO THINGS TO WATCH

Track meet. The Thunder lead the NBA in scoring offense (106.7 points per game), including 17.1 points per game coming on the break. The Clippers average only 1.4 points fewer in transition and lead the NBA in points off turnovers (19.8 points per game). In all 14 of the Thunder’s losses, their opponent has scored 100 points or more.

Part of the Clippers topping the century mark, which they’ve done 35 times this year, may be playing off the energy of what is expected to be an energetic crowd at Staples Center.

“We’ve got to play a solid basketball game, get our crowd into the game and have great energy,” Del Negro said. “It will come down to making plays. It’s another good test for us and I know the guys are looking forward to it.”

The foul line. Durant and Westbrook are two of the best in the league at getting to the line and the Thunder lead the NBA in free throw percentage (83.3%). Keeping the duo off the charity stripe may be difficult for the Clippers, who commit 20.9 fouls per game (eighth in the league). The Clippers may benefit from getting to the line themselves. The Thunder are 5-6 when either Sefolosha or Kendrick Perkins, two of their best defenders, commit at least five fouls.  

NOTES

The Clippers have not been swept in a season series by the Thunder since they moved to Oklahoma City after the 2007-08 season… Despite losing three of their last four on the road, the Thunder are 16-12 away from home this season… The Clippers and Thunder are the top two teams in the league in wins by more than 10 points. L.A. has won 29 games by at least 10, while the Thunder have won a league-high 30 games by double digits… The Clippers are 9-8 against the Thunder, since the franchise relocated from Seattle.