The Oklahoma City Thunder (3-0) and Los Angeles Clippers (3-0) square off in LA tonight in a matchup between two unbeaten Western Conference playoff hopefuls (10.30pm ET Wednesday on ESPN).
The Thunder’s Russell Westbrook (pictured) has established himself as the MVP favorite early on with some monster stat sheet-stuffing performances early on. In an overtime victory against the Phoenix Suns last Friday, he posted the NBA’s first 50-point triple-double since 1975 by scoring 51 points, grabbing 13 rebounds and dishing out 10 assists.
Los Angeles has gotten strong production from its two superstars, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. Those two could be a problem for an Oklahoma City team that depends so heavily on Westbrook.
This preview will focus on a few key questions that will determine the outcome of the game and then provide some betting predictions advice and picks.
Who Wins the Point Guard Matchup?
Westbrook and Paul are both top-three point guards in the NBA. The 6’3” Westbrook dominates opponents with freakish athleticism and a relentless motor, while the 6’0” Paul picks apart his marks with skill and savvy.
Both players are off to excellent starts in 2016-17. Per 36 minutes, Westbrook is averaging 36.3 points, 11.6 rebounds and 11.0 assists, and Paul is averaging 23.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and 8.6 assists. Their teams are a combined 6-0, which is obviously important because wins are a key measure of a point guard’s success.
All this to say, the winner of the point guard matchup will play a major role in deciding the game.
Westbrook will likely put up gaudy stats (as he has in every game so far this season), but he’ll have to be efficient to beat a Clipper team with more top-end talent. A line around 30 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists is great, but he will need to shoot better than about 45 percent and not commit more than four or five turnovers.
On the other side, Paul has more offensive help. He can be content with a 15-point, 10-assist game on efficient shooting and very few turnovers if it means he is setting up his teammates adequately.
Which Team Can Make Threes?
NBA players as a whole have been generally terrible at three-point shooting to start the season. Twelve of the league’s 30 teams are shooting below 30 percent from behind the arc, despite the fact that no squad went below the 30 percent mark last season.
Oklahoma City (29.0 percent) and Los Angeles (27.8) are two of those 12 teams. The Thunder aren’t a big surprise there, since they don’t have many good three-point shooters in their rotation. The Clippers, however, have plenty of good shooters and shouldn’t be that low.
J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford have both been uncharacteristically bad from long distance. Redick is shooting just 27.3 percent, and Crawford is at 11.1 percent.
Can the Clippers get good performances from their shooters? Can somebody on the Thunder get hot from the outside? The answers to those two questions will help swing the game.
Can Anyone Contain Griffin?
The Thunder start rookie Domantas Sabonis at power forward. The Clippers start five-time All-Star Blake Griffin at power forward. That’s an obvious mismatch in favor of Los Angeles.
Griffin has looked explosive this season and will be a nightmare for Sabonis to deal with when the Clippers are on offense, assuming the Lithuanian youngster is tasked with checking him. Sabonis is not known for his athleticism.
Looking down the Oklahoma City roster, there isn’t a great candidate to check a bouncy, super strong and skilled power forward. Steven Adams would be the top option, but he will likely have to watch out for the rim-running of DeAndre Jordan.
On paper, there is potential for a huge game from Griffin, unless Oklahoma City can find a defender that works well on him.
Our Preview’s San Antonio Spurs vs. Golden State Warriors Betting Picks Predictions
The Clippers are the favorite to win Wednesday night, with their superior offensive firepower. Their three-point shooters should get back on track some, and Griffin should have a big game.
However, Westbrook should tire Paul out sufficiently and Adams should do the same with Jordan. Victor Oladipo’s athleticism will give Redick fits, and Enes Kanter has the chance to come off the bench and get all he can eat against Los Angeles’ weak defensive big men off the bench. Kanter and the rest of a strong-rebounding Thunder team could make life difficult on the boards for a Clipper squad that often has trouble controlling the glass.
Here are this preview’s picks and betting predictions:
- The Clippers are favored at home by seven points by most of the top USA betting sportsbooks. They should win the contest but not cover the spread, making the Thunder +7pts our pick at best betting odds of -105 with BetOnline. It is -110 with Bovada for the same spread, while 5Dimes go +6.5pts at -110.
- The over-under sits at 207 total points for most outlets. Considering both teams’ preferences for playing fast and their offensive weapons, betting the over 207pts with 5Dimes Sportsbook or BetOnline at -110 is probably the smartest choice.
Jared is a lifelong sports fan and writer whose specialist subject is NBA. A 2015 graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, Jared has been a sought-after freelance sports writer. In addition to his valuable USA Betting contributions, he has also written for other top media outlets.