Oklahoma City Thunder at Los Angeles Clippers
Time: 9:30 PM CT (NBA TV)
Spread: OKC -2
Betting odds c/o 5dimes
The Oklahoma City Thunder are 18-9 on the season but have a humble road mark of just 5-6. Kevin Durant and the Thunder will test their luck at Staples Center where they are 2-point favorites over the 16-12 Los Angeles Clippers.
NBA oddsmakers set the total at 207.5, a reflection of both teams’ scoring acumen and talent. The ‘over’ is very much in play, notwithstanding that the Thunder have had trouble generating much offense outside of Durant and Russell Westbrook’s efforts.
The Thunder have won seven of its last eight games, and Billy Donovan’s team now looks like the true contender it has been up until last year’s injury riddled campaign. There were certainly few blemishes in OKC’s demolishing of the L.A. Lakers last night, winning the game by 40 points and putting up 67 points in the first half.
Yes, the Lakers are hapless and a poor defensive team, but OKC’s effort in the game showed just how explosive its lineup can be when it is clicking offensively. All OKC starters except the defensive-minded Andre Roberson scored in double figures and the Thunder also had three reserves score in double figures, led by Enes Kanter’s 19 points and 14 rebounds.
Getting strong play out of Kanter is essential to give the Thunder a post presence which it has sorely lacked in season’s past with the scrub that is Kendrick Perkins doing his impersonation of an NBA center. The Thunder still would like to see Serge Ibaka grow into a better offensive player, but he is reluctant to involve himself, most especially when Westbrook gets “dribble happy.”
Durant and Westbrook are the league’s high scoring duo once again, accounting for 52.1 Thunder points per game, which is nearly half the team’s offensive output. Westbrook is posting a PER of 30.2, as perhaps easily the league’s most talented floor general. Durant, meanwhile, is posting a 29.4 PER while averaging 27 points per game. He is a little removed from his three straight scoring titles, but if Steph Curry ever cools Durant could eventually win the scoring title again.
It likely hardly matters to the one-time MVP, as the Thunder returning to the NBA Finals remains the goal for Donovan’s club. Its opponent tonight has hardly experienced playoff success, and Chris Paul is starting to feel the burden of his postseason failures after having failed to deliver this Clippers team repeatedly now.
He and Blake Griffin are both very good players, but could either talent be considered “great?” Certainly there are times when Griffin and Paul take over games, but the fact is neither has proven to be the type of dominant talent that can drive a team to the Finals. The Clippers also have lost their last two games by an average of nine points, falling to both the San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets.
The Rockets disposed of the Clippers last year in the postseason, so the lost must especially sting with the Rockets’ marked decline in 2015.
The Clippers are still happy center DeAndre Jordan backed out of his free agency decision to move to Dallas. He is a horrible offensive player and one of the worst free throw shooters in NBA history, but his ability to finish at the rim while dominating the glass and blocking shots makes him one of the most valuable centers in the league. While “Hack a DeAndre” has cost the Clippers dearly this season, they would not even be in most games if not for Jordan’s rim protection.
For all Blake Griffin’s improvement on defense, this is still a team that defends on the basis of Jordan stopping players at the basket. J.J. Redick has become a very complete player, but the Clippers would like to see better play from his backup, sixth man Jamal Crawford. The flamethrower has been anything but this season, hitting just 36.3 percent from the field and 31.5 percent from downtown.
It is very uncharacteristic for a sharpshooter, but perhaps his lack of practice (self-admitted) has finally begun to catch up to him as he ages. What makes it worse, however, is that the Clippers have several other bricklayers in the lineup, including Austin Rivers, Lance Stephenson and Paul Pierce.
Pierce has been especially bad, citing just 31 percent from the floor and seeing only 16 minutes a night. While initially this Clippers team looked like one of the deepest teams in the league, it has hardly translated to great success. The Clips are still second in the Pacific Division, but there is virtually no chance at all of finishing atop the division with the red hot Golden State Warriors proving to be continually unbeatable.
The championship is Golden State’s to lose, but on a talent basis the Clips should be able to give them a run. Many are quick to attribute L.A.’s struggles to Doc Rivers, but that seems like a scapegoat for the fact that the cohesion and chemistry just has not been what was expected when the Clips fortified their bench.
The Thunder may be on the latter half of a back-to-back, but NBA oddsmakers are spot on in favoring OKC. The Thunder have been pretty hot lately and the Clippers still are rather mediocre. Improvement must come for Rivers’ club, or this could be the beginning of the end of his tenure as L.A.’s coach.