Thunder Catching Clips At Right Time?

By Randy Renner

The Thunder are coming off a 40-point blowout of the Lakers, have won seven of their last eight games and 11 of their last 14 while the LA Clippers are coming off a 107-97 loss in Houston, have dropped two straight and even All-Star point guard Chris Paul was shaking his head after the loss to the Rockets telling reporters, "we're not a team anybody needs to be worried about, not right now."

So reading that you'd think the Thunder are catching the Clippers at a perfect time to add a W to the win column.

Maybe...but maybe not.

The Clippers are back home at Staples Center tonight for just the third time in a 14-game stretch and they've played seven of their last eight games out on the road. Saturday's loss in Houston looked like a tired team that couldn't wait to get back home.

"I just thought we were flat and lacked energy," head coach Doc Rivers said after that game, then pointed out, "But, we've been on a helluva trip."

The Clippers should be rested up by tonight's 9:30 Oklahoma time tipoff and they tend to excel in a part of the game the Thunder struggled mightily with Thursday night in Cleveland, defending lobs off the pick-and-roll.

If the Matthew Delavidova-Tristan Thompson combo can cause trouble for OKC imagine what kind of havoc Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan can create down low.

It's something head coach Billy Donovan recognizes and had his team working on shoring up defensive issues with it on Sunday. 

And veteran forward Nick Collison admits that in order to contain the Clippers "Lob City" attack everyone is going to have to pitch in.

"It's a five-man job," Collison said after Sunday's practice. "All five guys are going to have to be involved and all five guys will play a role in trying to stop them."

Everyone in the NBA these days uses pick-and-roll plays. The Thunder have also become one of the best with the combo of Russell Westbrook and either Steven Adams or Enes Kanter. And they will provide the Clippers with headaches on that end of the floor but Collison says the Clippers, run it a bit differently than most teams.

"You have to be really aware of their guys rolling to the basket because (Griffin and Jordan) take off from further away than most guys in the league."

On defense you're left with the problem of staying with the roll man coming down the lane to protect against a lob up high or a pass inside for a dunk or trying to help against the guard coming off a screen who might be headed for a mid-range jumper or to shoot a pass to someone on the perimeter.

A wrong guess, or a bad decision usually leads either to an uncontested dunk or a wide-open 3-ball.

"The teams that are really hard to guard in this league are the ones where you have a big threat rolling down the middle (like Griffin or Jordan) and you're really put in a bind," Collison said.

Because in that split second you need to commit one way or the other.

"You don't want to be stuck in a gray area where you're not really committed to the ball but not really committed to the roller," he added. And Collison said that can be especially problematic against the Clippers because "Chris Paul's really good at making decisions and really good at reading the defense."

Oklahoma City (18-9) will play back-to-back games at Staples Center, with what figures to be a mismatch with the Lakers on tap Wednesday. The Thunder crushed a Los Angeles team that played without Kobe Bryant on Saturday, 118-78.

Kevin Durant scored 22 points in three quarters and Kanter added 19 and 14 rebounds off the bench as the Thunder led by 20 in the first quarter and by 34 in the second and were never threatened.

"We just tried to make the right play every time down and defensively, we just tried to cover for each other," Durant said. "We came in at halftime and coach said we've got to still stick with our principles and still play the game the right way and I think we did a good job."

No one on the Thunder reached 30 minutes in the blowout. Westbrook had 13 points and 11 assists in 27 minutes.

The Clippers took two of three from the Thunder last season, with Durant and Griffin each playing only once because of injuries. Durant missed Oklahoma City's only visit to Los Angeles.

No such issues this time, all the stars are shining and healthy which should make for a fascinating game.


Randy RennerComment