Date: March 3, 2020
Tip-Off Time: 7 p.m. CTTelevision: Fox Sports OklahomaRadio: 98.1 FM WWLS the Sports Animal and the Thunder Radio Network
After three days without a game following the Thunder’s loss to Milwaukee, the squad returns to action with eyes set forward on the next task at hand, which is a March schedule densely packed with nine road games – the most in a single month behind January with 10. The Thunder now searches for its sixth win in seven games against the third ranked team the Western Conference. After three days of practice and rest, the Thunder returns to Chesapeake Energy Arena looking to right the ship in front of its home crowd on the first night of its second consecutive road-home back-to-back. “We’ve got to come out and be ready to play,” Chris Paul said. “We’re at home, we know that they’re one of the best teams in the West and we’ve got to come out and be us.”
After a season peppered with injury and 29 different starting lineups, the Clippers have played their last four games at full strength and are riding a four-game winning streak. Outside of the usual suspects of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George (combined 48.1 ppg), the Clippers tout a 10-man rotation with every player capable of 20-point performances. In games where the Clippers have no injuries to report, they are 9-0.
This was illustrated Sunday’s matchup against Philadelphia, in which four Clippers tallied at least 24 points: Leonard, 30; George, 24; Lou Williams, ,24; and Montrezl Harrell, 24. Williams and Harrell carry the torch for the Clippers’ bench, who leads the league in points per game. The duo ranks second and third in total points off the bench this season trailing behind the Thunder’s stalwart sixth-man, Dennis Schröder, who holds the No. 1 spot.
Defensively, the Clippers cause disruption on the perimeter with size and length, but also with the pestilence of players like Patrick Beverly (1.2 steals per game), George (1.3 spg) and Leonard (1.8 spg).
“Obviously, they’re playing really well,” Thunder head coach Billy Donovan said. “The first two times we played them, they didn’t have their full complement of players. And since the trade deadline, they’ve obviously added a couple of guys so they’re a complete team one through 10. We’ll have to be really, really good on both ends of the floor.”
A healthy Clippers team with both Leonard and George on the floor at the same time means physical team defense for the Thunder. Look for the Thunder to approach defense with an harmony of force and discipline. Bumping cuts, not getting backed down in the post, but also remaining clean and not allowing the Clippers who are first in the league in free throws made and attempted.
“We’ve got to have more physicality in and around the basket,” Donovan said. “The flip side of that is we’ve been really, really good about playing defense and not fouling … There’s a balance there and we’ve got to strike a good balance between those two things.”
Stat to Watch
Rebounds – The Clippers are among the league’s leaders in controlling the glass as they sit third overall in rebounds per game while also ranking in the top five in offensive and defensive rebounds. Leading the rebounding game for Los Angeles is Leonard who wrangles 7.5 per contest. This means Thunder guards will have a big role to play in controlling the glass. When out-rebounded by their opponent, the Clippers are 5-14.
“We’ll have to rebound the ball very well,” Donovan said. “They’re a really good offensive rebounding team and that’s been an area that we need to shore up a little bit more.”
In the previous two matchups this season, the Clippers and the Thunder have split the series 1-1 with both games decided by six points or less. OKC cashing in the most recent win after overcoming a deficit by as many as 18 points in which Shai Gilgeous-Alexander tallied one of his three 32-point performances of the season. Tuesday’s matchup marks the second and final meeting between the two teams in Oklahoma City.