Thunder-Clippers Preview

There’s little argument the Los Angeles Clippers are serious

championship contenders, and their recent surge – especially the

dominance during it – shows their potential to accomplish that


The Oklahoma City Thunder may need to improve their game on the

road if they plan to make another run to the NBA Finals.

Los Angeles seeks a fifth consecutive victory while dealing

Oklahoma City a fourth straight road loss in Sunday’s matchup of

division leaders.

The Clippers have been on a roll since Chris Paul returned from

a bruised right kneecap and have won eight of their last nine

games, with the victories coming by an average of 15.5 points.

Paul finished with 15 assists and Jamal Crawford scored a

game-high 24 points as Los Angeles (43-18) turned it on late in a

105-89 win at Cleveland on Friday. Despite their recent success –

the only loss during the run was to West-leading San Antonio on

Feb. 21 – coach Vinny Del Negro knows it will only get tougher

moving forward for the Pacific Division leaders.

“There are no easy games. I don’t care who you’re playing,” Del

Negro said.

Crawford led the surge off the bench Friday, as the reserves

scored at least 50 points for the 10th time. The Clippers are

averaging an NBA-best 40.6 points off the bench.

“When the second unit plays like that, we take the game of this

basketball team to another level,” reserve Ronny Turiaf told the

team’s official website. “We have so many finishers that can finish

at the basket and so many guys who can shoot 3s or score from the

mid-range. I think we can do things at a very high level.”

Oklahoma City, though, hasn’t seemed too threatened.

Kevin Durant scored 35 points and Russell Westbrook added 23 as

the Northwest Division-leading Thunder (42-16) beat the Clippers

117-111 in overtime Nov. 21, as Paul shot only 2 of 14 and finished

with nine points.

Durant then had 32 points to help overcome 31 and 11 rebounds

from Blake Griffin in a 109-97 road win over the Paul-less Clippers

on Jan. 22. Since that victory, though, Oklahoma City has dropped

six of eight away from home, including Friday’s 105-103 loss at

Denver as Ty Lawson scored with less than one second remaining.

Coach Scott Brooks still was pleased with the effort after his

team’s three-game winning streak was snapped.

“We always seem to somehow, someway, fight back and give

ourselves a chance to win,” Brooks said. “They made one more play

than us. That’s just the way it is. We have to figure it out going

into the next game and play a little bit better.”

Westbrook finished with a season-high 38 points and is averaging

30.2 while hitting 52.9 percent from 3-point range over his last


“He’s a passionate player,” Brooks said. “Russell never leaves

the game saying, ‘I wish I would have played harder’. When you have

a team full of guys like that like we do, and they do too, you live

with the results.”

The Thunder are just 16-12 on the road and 5-8 versus teams with

a record currently above .500, though Durant leads the NBA at 30.5

points per game away from home.

Oklahoma City leads the league in scoring, averaging 106.7

points, but the Clippers rank fourth in defense, allowing only 93.8

per game.