Another week, another huge NBA matchup as the (37-20) LA Clippers travel to Chesapeake Energy Arena for a matinee against the league’s best in the (43-13) Oklahoma City Thunder (Sunday 1pm ET).
Pay close attention to this one, you might just see these two teams again in the Western Conference Finals.
For the past three years, the weight of the world has been on the shoulders of Kevin Durant (pictured), the best player in the game to not have a championship ring.
In 2011-12, the young upstart Thunder defeated the Dallas Mavericks, LA Lakers and San Antonio Spurs to reach the NBA Finals and put their mark on the basketball world. Perhaps coincidentally, doing so made the Thunder the first team other than the Lakers, Spurs or Mavericks to win the Western Conference since the Utah Jazz did it in 1998.
Since 1999, those three teams had won 10 of 13 NBA Finals and in 2011-12, all of them had the chance to add to their already impressive titles. However, at just 23, it was Durant’s Thunder that reached the pinnacle and faced the Miami Heat in the championship series.
Unfortunately for OKC, fate was on the side of the Heat as they won the first of back-to-back championships.
For the Thunder, just reaching the championship with such a young team left many optimistic of what was to come. Durant got comparisons to Lebron James and the Thunder were expected to perennially battle the Heat for the best award in basketball.
It hasn’t worked out that way and with each passing year, the expectations have only increased. As crazy as it may be to say for a superstar who is just 25, but Durant and the Thunder look to be running out of time.
For that reason, the Thunder once again look to this year to be their year. If their record now is any indication, it very well could be.
The Changing of the Guards in LA
The Staples Center houses three professional teams, two of which have banners in the rafters. The NHL LA Kings stood atop the hockey world just a few years ago and of course the LA Lakers will go down as one of the best franchises in the NBA’s history.
But even for the Kings, who weren’t able to reach the postseason and defend their title, those banners represent history. While the Clippers may be the only Los Angeles team without a championship, the changing of the guard or if you want to get specific, “guards” is already underway.
You need look no further than the standings to see that the Clippers are on their way up and the Lakers are very much in free fall. The future of shooting guard Kobe Bryant, who has dealt with injury all year, is in question, and the cast of characters around him leave much to be desired. This is certainly not the Magic, Kareem or even Shaq/Kobe led squads of the past.
The Clippers on the other hand boast three phenomenal stars including one of the best point guards in the NBA in Chris Paul. Paul is becoming the better guard in LA as he leads the Clippers to become the better team in the Staples Center. Behind him is Blake Griffin, a star in his own right and DeAndre Jordan. Together, the three make up what
has been affectionately called, “Lob City” and together they aspire to get their own banner hung up in the rafters.
Of course, in order to do this, the Clippers will have to get past the Thunder, who are as I mentioned, looking for a ring of their own.
Best of the West
This season, the Thunder and the Clippers have been two of the best teams in the Western Conference. OKC leads the Northwest Division as well as the entire league with the best record and a winning percentage almost .10 points higher than the second best Indiana Pacers. The Clippers meanwhile lead the Pacific Division and overall have the Western Conference’s fourth best record.
Additionally, the Thunder are the NBA’s second best team at home with a record of 23-4. The Clippers are just behind them at 23-5 but on the road, as they will be on Sunday, LA is just a paltry 14-15.
By the Numbers
- OKC PPG: 104.6 (6th)
- RPG: 45.3 (7th)
- APG: 21.5 (14th)
- Points Allowed: 97.7 (6th)
- LAC PPG: 106.9 (2nd)
- RPG: 42.9 (16th)
- APG: 24 (3rd)
- Points Allowed: 100.9 (15th)
Durant’s numbers this year are gargantuan. He is averaging 31.4 PPG, 5.5 APG and 7.8 RPG. He is a big reason for OKC’s team numbers. The easy solution would be to limit his possessions, but even in losses that has not been easy. Durant hasn’t scored below 25 points since January 5th and hasn’t scored under 20 since before Christmas. In the month of February, he is averaging 32.5 points.
As you can see from the numbers though, the Clippers actually average slightly more points per game than the Thunder. This is a result of six players, including each of the starting five, averaging at least 10 points a game. Surprisingly though, nearly half of LA’s assists come from Chris Paul. He averages 11.1 dimes a game while the second highest mark comes from Blake Griffin’s 3.5. Griffin also leads the team in scoring with 24.4.
Overall, the numbers favor the Thunder and they should considering OKC’s standing as the best team in the league. They are however, coming off a pretty bad loss to Miami and one that came on their home court. Before this loss, Oklahoma City’s last home defeat was way back on January 2nd.
A possible good sign for the Clippers is that February has been the Thunder’s worst month this year as they have lost three of the eight games they have played. By contrast, the Clippers have only been slightly worse, losing four of eight in the month, including the last two.
LA Clippers at Oklahoma City Thunder Pick
It is really hard to pick against a team that has only lost four games on their home court especially when they are facing a team that is less than .500 on the road. For that reason and for the impact of the possible league MVP in Durant, feel pretty confident about taking the Thunder to win this game.