Two of the Western Conference's best young teams will face off tonight as the Lob City Los Angeles Clippers take their fast-paced act to Oklahoma City to visit the Thunder. The Clippers are on a six-game winning streak and atop the NBA Pacific Division, not to mention coming off a close 92-87 victory against the San Antonio Spurs Monday night.
Oklahoma City is also in first place, holding court atop the NBA Northwest. The team has played quite well in spite of trading the electrifying James Harden to the Houston Rockets for Kevin Martin, but Martin has done a fine job coming off the bench thus far.
This game is surely going to be a good one as both teams are full of young talent and like to play the run and gun game. Such an approach has led them to their respective standings within their divisions, and it will surely be on display after first tipoff Wednesday night.
Time: Wednesday, November 21st, 7:30 p.m. EST
Records: Los Angeles Clippers (8-3) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (8-3)
Betting Lines: Not available as of Tuesday, November 20, 8:34 a.m. EST
Injuries: Chauncey Billups (Achilles), Grant Hill (knee), Trey Thompkins (knee)
Key Storyline: Clippers Look to Remain Perfect on the Road Against Deep OKC Squad
There's more riding on this game than mere standing in the Western Conference, ladies and gentlemen, especially for the Clippers. Besides being tops in their division and riding a six-game winning streak, Los Angeles is undefeated on the road thus far this season.
This may seem like an insignificant statistic, but look at it this way. Barring a major injury to one of their stars, the Clippers are going to make the playoffs this year. At that point, which teams played well on the road versus those who didn't is going to set the tone for who will the be the last team standing.
Considering how the Clippers were 16-17 on the road last season, their success away from home this year is testament to how much they improved over the summer. More importantly, they are 5-1 against Western Conference teams, and we all know how tough and competitive the West is.
That said, Lob City is going to be in for another challenge tonight against Oklahoma City. The Thunder are the defending Western Conference champions, and they are still playing some great basketball despite losing a key piece in Harden. They are a deep team that will stop at nothing to win a game.
Seeing as how the Clippers have beaten the likes of the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs (twice!) during their winning streak, this game definitely has the makings of a close one.
Key Matchup: Russell Westbrook vs. Chris Paul
The job of the point guard is to run the offense, and tonight's game features two of the best floor generals in the game. The Clippers have the tough and balanced Chris Paul, whereas the Thunder have the fiery Russell Westbrook.
Both players are point men who like to both score and pass the ball, but they are still quite different in their approaches to the game.
Paul is a pure team-first player, clearly preferring to pass and play defense and only take a shot when necessary. He is averaging 16.3 points and 10 assists per game this year to go with 2.2 steals, and his intelligent shot selection has earned him a field goal percentage of 49 percent.
Westbrook, though talented and just three years younger than Paul at age 24, is still learning about being a top NBA point guard. He is a great scorer and can dish the ball well, not to mention play some pesky defense, but he has yet to find a way to balance all of his skills out.
The former UCLA Bruin is averaging 20.5 points, 8.4 assists and 1.6 steals per game this year, but has been way too trigger happy when it comes to picking his shots. Despite his averages, he has shot just 40 percent from the field. He isn't a bad player by any means, but needs to learn that balance if the Thunder are to seriously contend for a championship.
That said, when going up against Paul on Wednesday night, one of two things is going to happen. Westbrook is either going to have a great game and make mince meat out of his opponent, or Paul is going to give him a lesson about how one really plays the point in the NBA. Or, of course, both players could have great games and the battle will essentially be a tie.
X-Factor: Kevin Durant
Given how Westbrook is surely going to be in for a challenging game at the point, the Thunder's offensive productivity is going to rest on the shoulders of reigning scoring champion Kevin Durant. As the unquestioned leader of his team, he needs to be just as phenomenal against the Clippers as he has been all season.
Durant has averaged 24.5 points and 10.5 rebounds thus far, shooting 51 percent from the field and a deadly 47 percent from downtown.
Against the Clippers, it's really his game to lose as he's going to have a fairly easy matchup in Caron Butler. Seeing as how defense hasn't been Butler's strongest suit for a few years now, Durant is in a prime position to have a great game.
More importantly, if Durant struggles from the field against the Clippers, the Thunder could easily be sunk. Nothing against Westbrook or Martin, but neither is a strong nor accurate enough scorer to simply take control in the event of Durant's touch deserting him.
The Clippers' run-and-gun game could simply overwhelm the Thunder at that point and build a big, possibly insurmountable lead since Durant wouldn't have his best shot with him.
Thus, if the Thunder want to win this game, or at least keep it close, Durant simply must bring his best game.
This one is a really tough call, as both the Clippers and Thunder will surely play some fast offense and tough defense from start to finish. However, all good things must soon come to an end, and so will the Clippers' winning streak in Oklahoma City.
The Thunder have a winning streak of their own entering this game, albeit a much smaller one at two games. These victories haven't been major ones, coming against the feisty Golden State Warriors and the young New Orleans Hornets, but they further established the Thunder as one of the NBA's elite.
Who will win?
That said, look for Serge Ibaka to play some lockdown defense on Blake Griffin and for Kendrick Perkins to give DeAndre Jordan a hard time in the paint. Westbrook and Paul will both have great games and their battle will end in a stalemate.
Thus, in a game that will feature scoring bursts from both sides and some tough interior defense, Durant is going to be the one who steps up in the clutch and delivers the victory. Be it via a key three-pointer or a simple jump shot, or even free throws, he will be the man of the hour as the Thunder celebrate victory at the final buzzer.
Oklahoma City Thunder 107, Los Angeles Clippers 100, in overtime