Thunder's nightmare foe has gotten scarier

Led by former Oklahoma high school and college star Blake Griffin, the Los Angeles Clippers visit OKC on Wednesday night. L.A. is off to a hot start, and poses matchup problems for OKC.
by Darnell Mayberry Published: November 20, 2012

photo - Los Angeles Clippers' Blake Griffin dunks in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Chicago Bulls in Los Angeles, Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong) ORG XMIT: LAS105
Los Angeles Clippers' Blake Griffin dunks in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Chicago Bulls in Los Angeles, Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong) ORG XMIT: LAS105

When the Los Angeles Clippers walk into Chesapeake Energy Arena on Wednesday, they'll roll in red hot, coming to town atop the Western Conference at 8-2, with a league-best six-game winning streak and the NBA's last unblemished road record.

In other words, the Thunder's worst nightmare has gotten even scarier.

For all the talk about how the new-look Lakers are destined to dethrone the defending Western Conference champions, it's the Clippers who loom as the Thunder's biggest threat. The Clippers, historically, just haven't been a good matchup for the Thunder, and this, the first of three regular-season meetings, will be our first glimpse into whether anything has changed.

The Thunder can only hope so, as the Clippers are shaping up to be among the teams Oklahoma City must go through if it intends on making a return trip to the NBA Finals.

“(The) Clippers are playing probably the best basketball in the league right now,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks.

Last year's struggles against L.A. aren't forgotten. The Thunder went 1-3 against the Clippers, losing by an average margin of 9.7 points. That point differential included road losses by 12 and 15 points, respectively.

And the Clippers are even better this year.

L.A.'s core now has a year of experience to draw from, along with a bolstered bench that includes the addition of Jamal Crawford, Lamar Odom, Matt Barnes, Ryan Hollins and a healthy Eric Bledsoe. Those acquisitions have helped the Clippers get off to a sizzling start despite Chauncey Billups still being sidelined while recovering from an Achilles injury and Grant Hill (knee) yet to make his debut, also because of injury.

But what makes the Clippers such a difficult matchup is their ability to combat the Thunder's strong suits with similar, if not better, strengths. L.A. has the right blend of youth and athleticism, size and 3-point shooting, leadership and depth to deal with just about anything the Thunder throws its way. Few teams, if any, can counter OKC quite like the Clippers.

It's why a seven-game series between these two teams would be must-see TV but one the Thunder perhaps would rather avoid if possible.

“It'll be a good test for us, for sure,” said Nick Collison.

Let's label this first meeting a progress report.

The Thunder still is searching for its first “quality” win after rolling over teams like Detroit, Cleveland and Toronto. Oklahoma City's wins this season have come against opponents with a combined record of 26-44, a 0.371 winning percentage. Golden State, at 6-5, is the only team the Thunder has defeated that currently sports a winning record.

by Jacob Unruh
Jacob Unruh is a graduate of Northeastern State University. He was born in Cherokee and raised near Vera where he attended Caney Valley High School.During his tenure at NSU, Unruh wrote for The Northeastern (NSU's student newspaper), the...
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