Just In Time Thunder Healthy Again
By Randy Renner
The Thunder's regular starting five has been out on the floor together for just 20 games this season. Tonight, if we all cross our fingers and toes, just might be the 21st.
Kendrick Perkins returned last week from his strained groin, Russell Westbrook has been back for a while though he continues under restrictions and last night Thabo Sefolosha was back.
All three should play tonight reuniting the Thunder starting five just in time for the biggest game of the season.
A Hollywood smackdown with second place in the Western Conference on the line.
The Thunder have a skinny two game lead in the loss column over the Clippers but the Clips have won two of the first three games these teams have played. If they win tonight they will be just one down and have the tie-breaker.
If the Thunder take care of business and beat the Clippers that will just about lock up the Number two seed and keep alive those slim chances to still catch the Spurs for the top spot.
The Thunder can narrow their focus now that they appear to be healthy and now that the distraction of Kevin Durant's 25-point game scoring streak is done.
Durant is headed for a fourth NBA scoring title with an average of 32.0 points. He had scored at least 25 for 41 consecutive games before coming two points shy in Tuesday's 107-92 win at Sacramento, as he sat out the fourth quarter due to the sizable lead.
The five-time All-Star is happy the streak is over.
"I was getting so many texts after every game. I'm glad that's over with and we can just focus on the team," said Durant, who was 8-for-13 in 31 minutes. "If we played well and I had 25 points, that took away from how well the team was playing, so I didn't like that. If we lost, it was all about me scoring 25 points and I didn't like that either. I'm glad we can just talk about the team now."
Despite his reluctant attitude to talk about his own achievements Durant will play a major role in trying to give the Thunder some breathing room in the standings over the Clippers.
He averages 29.0 points in 24 career meetings with them, scoring 34.2 over the past six games. Durant poured in 42 points in the most recent matchup, a 125-117 home loss February 23rd.
Westbrook struggled from the floor in that one, going 3-for-13 while finishing with just 13 points. The point guard will be back in the lineup after coach Scott Brooks rested him last night, as he's done during one game of back-to-back sets since he returned from right knee surgery February 20th.
The Pacific Division champion Clippers are looking to continue their impressive surge, which started with the victory over the Thunder two months ago. Since then, they've reeled off 18 wins in 21 games while averaging 110.8 points.
"Our whole message is to worry about ourselves," forward Blake Griffin, the former OU star said. "We know who we are. We just want to sharpen the things we do."
The Clippers, who lead the league with 107.8 points per game, looked primed for a postseason run Sunday, routing their cross-town rival Lakers 120-97 while hitting 56.6 percent from the floor and going 10-for-19 from 3-point range.
Like the Thunder, the lopsided score allowed coach Doc Rivers to limit minutes for his starters, including Griffin and All-Star point guard Chris Paul.
"It's just every game's important as far as I'm concerned," Rivers said. "You just want to keep winning and you just want to do that. It's nice to win and guys have relatively low minutes, so that was good."
Griffin, who will likely find himself matched up with Durant, had 20 points with seven rebounds and six assists in the February meeting with Oklahoma City and has generally been controlled by Perkins and Serge Ibaka.
Paul, though, came two boards shy of a triple-double, scoring 18 points and dishing out 12 assists. He enters this matchup averaging 23.8 points over the past six games, while sinking half of his 40 3-pointers.
Westbrook and Sefolosha could switch up on the coverage of Paul but Westbrook will likely get most of the chore because Sefolosha will be needed to watch over J.J. Redick and Matt Barnes. Jamal Crawford, who has burned the Thunder with his 3-point shooting is questionable tonight with a strained left calf.
Tipoff could slide a little bit from the scheduled 9:30 time because the Thunder-Clippers matchup is the second game of an ESPN double-header. You can also see the game on Fox Sports Oklahoma.