Sometimes big games are about two franchises with a long tradition of rivalry and great meetings. Other times, it’s just about two teams that are the best in the NBA at the moment, with the latter being the case as the Oklahoma City Thunder come to play the Los Angeles Clippers.
Both have the best record in the league: The Clippers at 32-10, the Thunder at 32-9, and yet both teams are coming off losses. The Clippers lost 106-99 in Oakland to the Golden State Warriors after an awful night from Chris Paul (4 points) while the Oklahoma City Thunder are coming off a 121-118 overtime defeat in Denver against the Nuggets. The two combined for 73 points, but shot only 41.3% eFG on the night, mostly getting by on free throws.
The interesting individual battle in the game will be Chris Paul facing off against Russell Westbrook. Westbrook is having trouble with his shooting his season (42.1% from the field), but other than that, he’s better than ever when it comes to his passing and even his defense, less-lazy than ever. Last time the two teams met was on November 21 in OKC; Westbrook scored 23 points and added 9 assists, Kevin Durant led the way with 35 points. Chris Paul had an awful night with only 9 points, shooting 2-14 from the field.
In order for the Clippers to succeed, they don’t need for Chris Paul to play like an MVP (16.6 points, 9.7 assists per game), but they do need him to make reasonable decisions when handling the ball, and for more than just Jamal Crawford to step up. The Thunder won 117-111 on that night, but because they got a big contribution from Kevin Martin (20 points) and Hasheem Thabeet (10 points) off the bench, which is usually the Clippers’ field of expertise.
Prediction – In Los Angeles, the Clippers are very hard to beat, and they usually play with an edge coming after a loss. It’s not going to be about the stars (Westbrook, Griffin, Paul, Durant) putting up big numbers that’ll decide the game. If the Clippers get a lot from their bench, meaning a big game from Crawford and Matt Barnes and hopefully more than that, they should win this one by a few points.