Western Conference 1st Round: Los Angeles Clippers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

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The Los Angeles Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder find themselves both off tense Game 7 wins. Both teams fought long battles against teams who, if a few plays would’ve gone the other way, would’ve been here instead. Both teams like to play fast. Both teams are full of star talent, both should make this an exciting series.

Los Angeles:

The Clippers most clear advantage in this series is their size and athleticism down low and their depth. Serge Ibaka makes a name for himself by being one of the best power forwards in the NBA on the defensive end due to his athleticism and energy, however at the center position the Thunder don’t have anybody that can really stay with DeAndre Jordan. I expect Jordan to eat up the boards against guys like Steven Adams and Kendrick Perkins who are strong and good rebounders but hardly the athletes that Jordan is. He can impact the game in the paint defensively but also on the offensive glass in creating extra possessions for the Clippers. He will also have a size advantage in the post, and he’s not normally an offensively talented guy, but with his foot speed and his athleticism he can get Perkins and other guys into foul trouble. On the pick n roll with Chris Paul, there should be many lobs available for him over the top of the centers of Oklahoma who play mostly below the rim.

Their other advantage will be their bench. The Thunder’s bench was wildly inconsistent against Memphis, scoring only 23.7 points per game as opposed to their 41 during the regular season. Take note that that average was also altered because of Reggie Jackson’s 32 points in Game 4. The Clippers on the other hand, averaged 34.5 against the Warriors. That has to continue through this series because if nobody is scoring in volumes besides KD and Russell Westbrook, the Thunder simply don’t win. That means not only does the second unit need to defend, something they did horribly during the regular season posting a -6 efficiency rating defensively with the 2nd unit on the floor, but they need guys like Jamal Crawford, Darren Collison, Jared Dudley, Glen Davis and others to be on top of their game so when the starters are off the floor, the Thunder are at a disadvantage.

Offensively in general, the Clippers do run a smoother half-court offense and no matter how good the Thunder are defensively, the Clippers have the advantage in the half-court. So of course they should be themselves and push the pace – something that will probably speed up on its own, but they should try make Oklahoma play in the half-court. What will give them even more of an edge is Chris Paul being extra aggressive. He’s usually a playmaker, and he should continue to be, but when his main focus is attacking he attracts so much attention from the defenses and if he starts out scoring off the pick n roll, more things open up for his teammates. He has the ability to take over every game he plays and I think with him coming out trying to score the ball it will only be easier for him and his team.

Defensively, as always when facing Oklahoma, the focus has to be slowing down Kevin Durant, which at this point is as hard as stopping a freight train. The only man who can really do that is Matt Barnes, who is known to be a defensive stopper. However, he couldn’t stop him during the regular season as he was right on his average of 32 points per game against Los Angeles. The Clippers are going to have to double him in the post because he has the size advantage over Barnes and I think making the other guys on Oklahoma like Sefolosha or Caron Butler hit open shots is a possibility they would much rather live with. When in the pick n roll, if it’s Blake Griffin’s man setting the pick they should trap, but if not I wouldn’t want DeAndre Jordan trapping on the perimeter and leaving Blake to guard the rim because he’s not a defensive stopper and I don’t want him getting in foul trouble.

Oklahoma City:

Oklahoma City is going to have to be tough on the boards to stop DeAndre from eating up the glass like he probably will in this series. They’re dealing with the most athletic front-court in the entire NBA and are going to have to contain him to prevent 2nd opportunities for the Clippers. Defensively, Westbrook is fully capable of guarding Chris Paul, especially while he’s dealing with hamstring issues. Ibaka is a premier defender and can handle Griffin down low, because he’s so athletic, the problem might be if Perkins is guarding Griffin because of Griffin’s speed and athleticism he’ll be able to take advantage of that down low. However, doubling Blake in the post isn’t a dangerous thing to do because of Los Angeles’ lack of three point shooting. As long as someone is on Redick at all times, they can afford to double if they need to.

Offensively, this series will be extremely fast-paced. Los Angeles averages 108 points per game and Oklahoma City averages 106 per game. They both love to get up and down and for the Clippers that’s no worry because they have ball handlers like Jamal Crawford, Collison and Chris Paul who are very good at taking care of the ball. The problem for Oklahoma falls upon Westbrook’s shoulders, who has had numerous games where he’s played out of control, taken too many shots and turned the ball over almost generously. That can’t happen in this series, especially against Los Angeles who loves to get out and run. He has to defer to Kevin Durant in this series especially because there really isn’t anybody who can challenge him defensively, unlike Memphis who had one of the best defenders in the league in Tony Allen who gave him problems. The Thunder do struggle in the half-court at times, and especially in this high-speed series, they need to play patiently and wait for things to come to them. That doesn’t mean play passively, but they can’t force things and turn the ball over.

Who Wins?

I’ve never been a fan of the Thunder roster. If KD or Westbrook are having an off game, the team doesn’t have many options offensively to go to. They get some production from a few guys here and there but they’re just not as consistent and well-balanced as the Los Angeles Clippers. The Clippers move the ball very well, and can score in many different ways. The Thunder bench has been very inconsistent this post-season, while the Clippers have come together at the right time. I think DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin are going to be problems for the Thunder on the glass, and with the way the Clippers play in the half-court there is really no room for the Thunder to play as recklessly as they have in the past in terms of turning the ball over. The Thunder play heavy isolation style basketball and like I’ve said before, without Durant or Westbrook scoring the ball, the Thunder really struggle.

Final Prediction:

Clippers in 6.

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