The Los Angeles Clippers are ready to prove that their highly successful NBA regular season was no fluke. Currently sitting in the No. 4 position in the West at 55-23, the Clippers are just a game and a half behind Oklahoma City for the No. 2 seed with five games to play. L.A. hosts the Thunder at the Staples Center Wednesday night.
The last time these two teams met, the Clippers invaded Chesapeake Energy Arena and escaped with a 125-117 victory on February 23. That win propelled Doc River’s club toward its best stretch of the season. Including the win in Oklahoma City, L.A. has won 18 of its last 21 games.
Although all the talk of late has been on “the streak,” Kevin Durant insists that he and his Thunder teammates are much more focused on winning than they are individual records. Like the Clippers, Oklahoma City has been playing solid ball down the stretch, winning seven of their last 10 contents.
Durant’s much publicized streak of games scoring 25 or more points ended this week at 41, one game more than the previous NBA record held by Michael Jordan, as the All-Star sat out the fourth quarter of a 107-92 beat down that the Thunder gave the Sacramento Kings. He finished with 23 points. Durant says that he is glad the streak is over, because now fans and media can put proper focus on the team and how they are playing as a whole.
Along with the playoff-seeding drama that this contest brings with it, there are also some intriguing match-ups to keep any eye on. Most notably, the Pacific Division champion Clippers will put All-Star forward Blake Griffin on Durant, the NBA’s reigning scoring champ. When these two faced off back in February, Durant lit up Griffin and the Clippers for 42 points, but all of those points came in a losing effort. As for Griffin, he flirted with a triple double against the Thunder, scoring 20 points, grabbing seven boards and dishing out six assists.
Griffin says that the key to containing Durant is playing team defense. He says that the best teams can hope to do is make things a bit more tough for him. Coach Doc Rivers and Griffin both agree that Durant is the best scorer in the world right now, and they acknowledge that it does not matter how the All-Star is defended. He is still going to get his points.
Another match-up to watch is the battle of the All-Star point guards. Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook is still getting his wind back after being sidelined with a knee injury on Christmas Day. In his last five games since returning from spraining that same knee, Westbrook has averaged 24 points and six assists. Both positive signs for Thunder fans. Westbrook will match up against Chris Paul, who has averaged 21 points and 9 assists over his last seven games for the Clippers. Paul says that the team understands the importance of Wednesday night’s game and the playoff implications that go with it, but they are not nervous or tight because of it.
Through their previous three games, L.A. holds a 2-1 advantage in the season series over Oklahoma City. A win on Wednesday would clinch the series and also give the Clippers the tiebreaker if the teams end up with identical records.
Commentary by Jeremy Mika