Definitive Guide to OKC Thunder vs. LA Clippers and Wednesday's Top NBA Games

Dan FavaleFeatured ColumnistNovember 13, 2013

Definitive Guide to OKC Thunder vs. LA Clippers and Wednesday's Top NBA Games

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    Widen that hump-day smile, because your Wednesday just got even better.

    Some will waste the day at work, dreaming of the weekend to come when they'll party like it's 1999, back when Will Smith still made music.  Others, the smart ones, will look to the NBA for some mid-week salvation.

    More than 20 teams are in action tonight, many of which are preparing for key matchups.

    The Los Angeles Clippers will attempt to right their defense and continue dominating on offense against the Oklahoma City Thunder, while the New York Knicks will look to make good on a certain, unprovoked guarantee. The Minnesota Timberwolves will try to rebound from a tough loss to the Clippers against the Cleveland Cavaliers, while the Brooklyn Nets look to prove they're not as disappointing as advertised against the Sacramento Kings. And that's not even the half of it.

    On most nights, the NBA is big. On this Wednesday, it's bigger.

     

    Wednesday Night's Lineup

    Milwaukee Bucks vs. Orlando Magic, 7 p.m. ET

    Houston Rockets vs. Philadelphia 76ers, 7 p.m.  ET

    Charlotte Bobcats vs. Boston Celtics, 7:30 p.m. ET

    Toronto Raptors vs. Memphis Grizzlies, 8 p.m. ET

    Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Minnesota Timberwolves, 8 p.m. ET

    New York Knicks vs. Atlanta Hawks, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)

    Washington Wizards vs. San Antonio Spurs, 8:30 p.m. ET

    Los Angeles Lakers vs. Denver Nuggets, 9 p.m. ET

    New Orleans Pelicans vs. Utah Jazz, 9 p.m. ET

    Phoenix Suns vs. Portland Trail Blazers, 10 p.m. ET

    Brooklyn Nets vs. Sacramento Kings, 10 p.m. ET

    Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Los Angeles Clippers, 10:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

     

    *All stats in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference and NBA.com (subscription required) unless otherwise attributed and are accurate as of Nov. 11, 2013.

Best Matchup of the Night: Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Los Angeles Clippers

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    Richard Rowe-USA TODAY Sports

    I love the smell of a powerhouse dance-off in November.

    Last season, the Clippers dropped all three of the games they played against the Thunder. Retooled and playing horrific defense, they'll seek to avenge last year's vices on national television.

    Revamped roster or not, taking down Oklahoma City is never easy. The surging Thunder have won four in a row behind Kevin Durant, who is scoring like a three-time scoring champion should. His 30.2 points per game presently lead the NBA and he continues to shoot at a high clip (47.2 percent).

    Unlike the Clippers, the Thunder are fielding a top-10 defense, overshadowing the fact that last year's top-ranked offense is currently 11th in efficiency. Balance on both ends of the floor should give the Thunder an inherent edge against the Clippers—who rank 28th in defensive efficiency—but Los Angeles is scoring enough that it almost doesn't matter.

    Also, it's unlikely that this turns into a defensive grudge match anyway. Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Durant, and Blake Griffin will all be on the same floor. Points will be scored—in bunches.

    With the Thunder chasing the Spurs for the best record in the Western Conference and the Clippers looking to show they're not fated to hover around .500 forever, dual triple-digit performances aren't out of the question. I'd even say they're likely.

    As if you needed any more reasons to watch.

     

Must-See Individual Matchup: Russell Westbrook vs. Chris Paul

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    One point guard is prone to temper tantrums and stonewalling reporters; the other is the best floor general in the NBA. How could you not want to see this?

    Chris Paul has been playing on another level this season, averaging 21.3 points and 12.4 assists per game, the latter of which would be a career high if it holds. He's been more aggressive in looking for his own shots and, if the previous eight years have taught us anything, it's that a more aggressive Chris Paul is a fiercely dangerous Chris Paul.

    The season hasn't been as kind to his counterpart, Russell Westbrook. In four games since returning from a knee injury, Westbrook is averaging 19 points and 3.8 assists on 33.8 percent shooting. Although the motor and explosion have been there, the execution and efficiency have not.

    Westbrook is coming off his worst game of the season against the Wizards, during which he collected just 13 points on 4-of-16 shooting, and was ejected for playing "Can I knock Nene over?" late in the fourth quarter. Oklahoma City was able to pull off the comeback against Washington without Westbrook, but the Clippers aren't the Wizards. To win, the Thunder will need the best version of Westbrook they can get.

    Anything less against the NBA's top point guard could be a recipe for disaster.

     

Who Has the Most on the Line?

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    Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

    Thank some combination of James Dolan and insufferable lethargy for this.

    Standing on stage while his band, JD and the Straight Shot, performed, the Knicks' owner guaranteed a victory over the Hawks, per the New York Daily News' Frank Isola. 

    "Thanks to the Rangers, who brought me a win," Dolan said, as quoted by the News' Stephen Lorenzo. "Unfortunately, the basketball [team] couldn't do it today. We're going to win the next game, that's a guarantee."

    Pretty self-explanatory, I'd say.

    The Knicks are just 2-4 and working off a 120-89 home loss to the Spurs on Sunday. It was ugly. Makes-Jacksonville-Jaguars-football-watchable ugly.

    Had Dolan remained silent, there would have still been a need for the Knicks to win. Title contenders, real ones, don't begin the season 2-5.

    Purported contenders owned by Dolan, though? I shudder to think what will happen if the Knicks make a liar out of him.

Injury Report

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    Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

    Atlanta Hawks

    Lou Williams (knee): There is no downside to the eventual return of Williams. It means less court time for Dennis Schröder, but the way he's playing, that's not necessarily a bad thing.

     

    Boston Celtics

    Rajon Rondo (knee): Imagine a Celtics team without Rondo above .500. Difficult, yes? If the Celtics defeat the Bobcats, you won't have to dream up anything. Boston will be over .500 and still in first place in the Atlantic Division.

     

    Brooklyn Nets

    Andrei Kirilenko: Per Alex Raskin of The Wall Street Journal, Kirilenko didn't make the West-Coast trip with Brooklyn. Like the Nets' defense hasn't had enough problems, right?

     

    Cleveland Cavaliers

    Andrew Bynum (family matter): Mary Schmitt Boyer of The Plain Dealer says Bynum will miss two games so he can tend to a family matter. Be thankful he's not injured, and wish his family well.

     

    Denver Nuggets

    Wilson Chandler (hamstring): The Denver Post's Mark Kiszla says Chandler will return against the Lakers. Who needs Andre Iguodala now? Well, the Nuggets. But still, you get the point. This is a good thing.

    Danilo Gallinari (knee): I miss you Gallo.

    JaVale McGee (leg): Fewer shots are will be blocked in Denver, but smarter on-court decisions made. Somehow, that doesn't feel like a fair trade off, mostly because I'll miss McGee's recurrent appearances on Shaqtin' a Fool.

    Los Angeles Lakers

    Kobe Bryant (Achilles): This Thanksgiving, I'll be thankful if I can be thankful for Kobe's imminent return.

    Steve Nash (back): After being diagnosed with nerve irritation in his back, Nash will be out at least two weeks, according to ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin. It's sad, really. If you're looking to make some extra cash, though, bet on him missing more than two weeks.

    New Orleans Pelicans

    Ryan Anderson (foot): The Times-Picayune's John Reid writes that Anderson still doesn't have a timetable for his return. Trouble is already afoot in New Orleans, where the Pelicans remain fun to watch, but continue to underachieve. These Pellies need Anderson.

     

    New York Knicks

    Tyson Chandler (leg): I had a dream the other night that the Knicks played defense without Chandler. Oh how whimsical dreams can be.

     

    Orlando Magic

    Tobias Harris (ankle): Harris says he's still a "couple weeks" away from returning, according to the Orlando Sentinel's Brian Schmitz. Ankles are treating him about as kindly as they do Stephen Curry.

     

    Philadelphia 76ers

    Nerlens Noel (knee): A Noel-Dwight Howard matchup is just what November could've used. Oh well, maybe next year, when Superman is playing for a different team.

     

    Utah Jazz

    Trey Burke (finger): Utah announced that Burke has been cleared for "solo" basketball drills and will be re-evaluated Nov. 25. Circle that date on your calendar everyone, if only because the Jazz may still be winless.

     

    *All injury information obtained from CBS Sports unless otherwise attributed.

Pop-in Potential: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Minnesota Timberwolves

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    David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

    Because, why not?

    Separately, Ricky Rubio and Kyrie Irving are fun to watch. Together, they should make for one hell of a night.

    Both the Timberwolves and Cavs are coming off tough road losses. Cleveland fell behind big to the Chicago Bulls late in the fourth quarter on Monday and Minny dropped a close game against the Clippers.

    How the Timberwolves respond to such a loss will say a great deal about where they're going. They've shown they can compete against formidable opponents on the tail end of back-to-backs, but can they rebound following a loss that would have kept them amongst the top three teams in the Western Conference?

    Not to mention the Cavs have already taken down the Timberwolves once this season. That adds a little flavor to this matchup, too.

    I'm also waiting for Irving to have a trademark breakout game. He's topped 20 points just twice this season and each time, he's gone for at least 29. But he's also been prone to disappearing, and his shooting hasn't been what it was last season. 

    It's still early, and if the playoffs started today, the Cavs would make the cut out East. But we're still waiting for the Cavs to meet the lofty expectations set for them this offseason. We're waiting to pass judgment on the Timberwolves as legitimate contenders or not, too. 

    Game on.

Fantasy Stockwatch

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    Exactly 80 percent of the NBA's teams are in action tonight, setting the stage for some difficult fantasy decisions.

    In instances like these, it can be near impossible deciding who to start. You might be torn between two or more no names, unsure of which guys are heading toward surprise performances. Or you could have everyone on your team slated to play, in which case you might have no idea who to sit.

    Then, you have the superstars. Will they play up to snuff? And if they do, what stat lines are they going to fill?

    Daily fantasy decisions can be stressful, much like dinner at the in-laws or telling your bride-to-be you cannot get hitched during the NBA season, for fear of missing the Jazz tank.

    Let me ease some of that pain, though. When it comes to picking out Wednesday's cream of the fantasy crop, you're not alone.

    As for those who need to have that conversation with their fiance, good luck. 

     

    The Big Guns

    Dwight Howard

    Who on the Sixers is going to stop Howard? Spencer Hawes? Nope. Lavoy Allen? That's cute.

    Philly ranks ninth in rebounds hoarded a night, but it doesn't have the post presence necessary to keep Superman—who corralled 24 rebounds in his most-recent performance against the Raptors—off the glass and out of the paint.

    Free throws will unfortunately be missed, but that's life in Houston right now. Howard will make up for any transgressions at the line with one of his hallmark 20 and 15 performances.

    There might even be a rejection or six in his imminent future as well.

     

    Jeff Teague

    Jeff Teague. A big gun. This is happening.

    Atlanta's point man has been sensational all season, dropping 17.1 points and 10.1 assists through seven games. He's shooting just 40.1 percent from the field, but when a floor general is averaging a double-double, that's easy to look past.

    Dolan felt confident enough to guarantee a victory for the Knicks in Atlanta tonight. I feel confident in pointing out that the Knicks are still unable to adequately keep point guards out of the paint. Tyson Chandler's absence is pretty much an open invite for any guard with a handle to abuse them inside.

    If New York does take down the Hawks, it will be in spite of a monster night from Mr. Teague.

     

    The Sleeper

    Xavier Henry

    Xavier Henry torched the Pelicans for 15 points in 22 minutes on Tuesday. Relatively well rested and facing a Nuggets team now devoid of a legitimate shot-blocker, a willingness to attack the rim could culminate in a huge night.

    While Henry has been inconsistent at best this season, that only means he's overdue. He hasn't had consecutive double-digit performances since the first two games of the season and it's just a matter of times before that changes.

    For what it's worth, the Nuggets are also really, really, really, bad. Don't be surprised if Henry goes off for 20 or more at the Pepsi Center.