The Clippers aren't getting much time to catch their collective breath. Barely 13 hours after closing out a seven-game playoff series against the Golden State Warriors, they were boarding a flight to Oklahoma City for a Western Conference semifinal matchup against the No. 2 seed Thunder. It's a series that will be dominated by superstars -- Blake Griffin and Chris Paul of the Clippers and Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook of OKC -- but don't overlook other key players. Here's how they break down.
They are different types of scorers, but forwards Blake Griffin and Kevin Durant will be the primary matchup worth watching. Durant, the likely MVP of the regular season, averaged 29.9 points in a seven-game win over Memphis and can score from anywhere on the floor. Clippers coach Doc Rivers said, "He's going to score. We already know that, but we don't want him to get easy scores." Griffin and Matt Barnes will assume that task. Center DeAndre Jordan should own the backboards after averaging 15 rebounds against the Warriors.
Mark D. Smith
Don't expect Clippers guard Chris Paul, who played the Warriors series with a sore right hamstring, to guard Russell Westbrook, whose speed and quickness make him a tough cover. That job will probably fall to J.J. Redick and subs Darren Collison and Jamal Crawford. Westbrook had a triple-double in Game 7 against Memphis and is one of the best rebounding guards in the league. Former Clipper Caron Butler may start at the other guard spot ahead of Thabo Sefolosha, who is struggling offensively.
Both teams have excellent benches, with the Clippers' group of Jamal Crawford, Darren Collison and Glen Davis giving good minutes. But don't look for Hedo Turkoglu, who is out with a lower-back injury, to play. OKC's Reggie Jackson will see lots of minutes after making big contributions against Memphis, and ageless Derek Fisher is a dangerous long-range shooter in a close game.
Gary A. Vasquez
Doc Rivers showed his value by guiding the Clippers through an emotionally difficult series, shouldering the responsibility of speaking for the team during the Donald Sterling crisis. It allowed his players to focus on basketball and not worry about outside pressures. OKC's Scott Brooks is one of the game's best young minds, but he'll have to figure out how to get balanced efforts from his players and not allow the Thunder to be the Durant-and-Westbrook Show.
If a team can grow through adversity, the Clippers did. They learned to trust each other and pull together for one goal even as their organization seemed to be falling apart. Doc Rivers' outward show of celebration Saturday night allowed the players to let loose and appreciate how much they had accomplished during tough times. It's doubtful the Thunder can match that.
Are you ready for another seven-game series? This one seems headed in that direction, but if the Clippers can play shutdown defense, they should win in seven and advance to the first conference finals in franchise history.