By Randy Renner
The Thunder don’t have any room for error as they head into one of the most difficult back-to-backs any team will have this NBA season.
A two-step tango beginning in Los Angeles tonight against the Clippers, who are now just two games in the loss column behind OKC for 3rd place in the Western Conference, and ending tomorrow night in Oakland against the 1st place Warriors.
We all know about Golden State but it’s been a while since the Thunder have had to mess with the Clips and the team they’ll battle tonight at Staples Center doesn’t look much like the one they beat 100-99 back before Christmas.
For one thing the Clippers are playing a lot better than they were then and for some strange reason Blake Griffin’s absence seems to have something to do with it.
The Clippers are 26-7 since Griffin has been out with various injuries. The latest of course is the hand he broke on the face of a Clippers’ staffer. Griffin was in Norman last night and watched as his Sooners’ #23 jersey was raised to the rafters at the Lloyd Noble Center. He’s expected back in LA tonight and will be on the bench for the Thunder game but he’s still a ways away from playing. The Clippers may also be without fellow forward Luc Richard Mbah A Moute who suffered a laceration of his left eye in Monday’s win over Brooklyn.
L.A. ditched Lance Stephenson and Josh Smith and has brought aboard former Thunder forward Jeff Green, so between the injuries and the transactions the Clippers won’t look quite the same.
The Thunder are healthy but they’re still a mystery. The offense was spectacular Monday night at Sacramento and the bench even cranked it up contributing 64 points but the defensive problems showed up again and turnovers led to 29 Kings’ points.
A couple nights before the Thunder had a fanatical effort against Golden State on both ends of the floor but still lost the game.
So who knows which Thunder team might show up for these two huge games on the west coast.
“It’s been an up and down roller coaster the last couple of weeks,” Kevin Durant admitted. Even with Monday’s win the Thunder come into tonight’s game having lost four of their last six. The Clippers are just the opposite, winning four of their last six.
"I love where we're at," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said after Monday’s 105-95 win over the Nets. "I love the way we've played overall. We've played through a lot of adversity this year."
All-Star Chris Paul has stepped up with averages of 26.1 points and 11.4 assists in the last seven games. He scored 32 against Oklahoma City in December while his All-Star counter-part Russell Westbrook had 33.
Russ had his ninth triple-double in the Thunder’s 131-116 win in Sacramento Monday with 20 points despite only eight field-goal attempts, 15 rebounds and 13 assists. The Thunder are 22-3 when he attempts 17 or fewer shots from the field.
Tipoff tonight is scheduled for 9:30 but since the game is the second contest of ESPN’s national TV double-header it could start as late as 9:45. You can also see it on Fox Sports Oklahoma.