After a huge loss at home to the best team in the Western Conference, the Los Angeles Clippers need to bring back their confidence to the level it was earlier this season, and beating the Oklahoma City Thunder for the first time in 2012-2013 might do the trick.
February wasn’t the best of months for the Clippers, but they’ve rebounded from losing by 16 points, at home, to the San Antonio Spurs with four consecutive wins, including an impressive 99-91 victory in Indiana over the Pacers and a 16 points win over the Cavs in Cleveland.
As always, the key for the Clippers will be attempting assert early pressure and success on defensive possessions, which allows Chris Paul more looks at carving the Thunder’s defense, which is at full health. They key to opening up that middle is luring Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka out of their comfort zone, which means a lot of pick n rolls and maybe some small ball the Clippers should try and use.
Having the bench play a big role is another issue that’s always critical for the Clippers, who were led by Jamal Crawford, scoring 24 points, in their previous game. The bench offers less star power but a bit more versatility in the possible lineups that might be more suitable for the game against the Thunder.
And maybe it’s about seeing what the Denver Nuggets did in their 105-103 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night, which ended with a big winning shot from Ty Lawson. The Nuggets forced 19 turnovers out of the Thunder, and keeping a high pace and stingy defense will be a key for the Clippers, regardless of how hot Russell Westbrook (38 points last game) and Kevin Durant (25 points) are heading into the contest.
Westbrook is averaging 30.2 while hitting 52.9% from 3-point range over his last six games, and the battle between him and Paul, not necessarily in the points section but in the “who makes the fewest mistakes” section might be the one to decide the battle, as the Clippers, 0.5 a game behind the Thunder, are hoping to stay within touching distance from the top two spots in the West.
Prediction – If the Clippers can dominate through the bench, meaning getting big nights from Jamal Crawford and another player, they have a shot. They need to not allow screens pick them apart like it did against the Spurs, because Westbrook and Durant are automatic at the moment when getting open looks.