NBA Playoff Preview: Los Angeles Clippers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

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REGULAR SEASON RECORDS

L.A. Clippers 57-25 (three seed in West)

Oklahoma City Thunder 59-23 (two seed in West)

Thunder advanced to second round with seven game win over Grizzlies. Clippers advanced to second round with seven game win over Warriors.

KEY INJURIES

Chris Paul is nursing a sore hamstring that is certainly slowing him some but he is playing through it.

Hedo Turkoglu suffered a bruised lower back in Game 5 against the Warriors, it is unclear when he might return.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possessions)

L.A. Clippers: Offense, 109.4 (1st in NBA); Defense 102.1 (7th in NBA)

Oklahoma City Thunder: Offense 108.1 (7th in NBA); Defense 101 (5th in NBA)

THREE KEYS TO THE SERIES

Chris Paul vs. Russell Westbrook. Two of the best point guards in the game but with radically different styles. Paul is the classic floor general, controlling the tempo and flow, looking to set up his teammates and scoring when he has to. Westbrook uses his exceptional athleticism and aggressive style to put pressure on the defense. Westbrook can be a double edged sword, as we saw against the Grizzlies — in Game 7 (and one) he was poised and getting teammates involved, carving up the defense. But through the middle of the Grizzlies series he shot poorly and just kept on shooting first and asking questions later. We could see that again — in the regular season Westbrook shot just 6-of-23 (0-of-6 from three) when guarded by Paul (stats via NBA.com’s Sports VU cameras). OKC needs facilitator Westbrook in this series. For Westbrook the other key is his defense — if he (with likely help from Thabo Sefalosha) can keep CP3 from conducting the Clippers offense and getting teammates easy buckets and open looks the Thunder will have a key advantage.

Blake Griffin vs. Serge Ibaka. These two have a history. Blake Griffin’s game doesn’t have many holes in it anymore — he has great handles, a midrange game defenders have to respect, plus he still hast that explosive athleticism. Serge Ibaka, perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate, is one of only a handful of defenders who can really make life difficult for Griffin. In the regular season Griffin shot 14-of-35 (40 percent) when Ibaka guarded him. OKC will throw some Steven Adams and Nick Collison at Griffin as well, trying to wear him down. Overall during their regular season meetings Griffin averaged 24.8points a game shooting 49.3 percent against OKC, solid performances close to his regular season averages. Will it be different with playoff matchups? If Griffin wins the battle against Ibaka it would be huge for Los Angeles.

Can the Clippers slow Kevin Durant? Memphis had Tony Allen, who for six games did all you could ask in terms of keeping the soon to be MVP in check. The Clippers lack that kind of lock down perimeter defender. In their four meetings this season Durant averaged 32.5 points per game but shot just 44.1 percent (29 percent from three). During the season Durant made 25-of-30 shots at the rim, but was just 6-of-21 from the midrange and was 7-of-24 from three against LA. Matt Barnes will get the call to start against Durant and KD shot 10-of-22 against Barnes in the regular season (they were matched up for 17 minutes). The Thunder are going to need better games than that out of Durant in this series, or they need a third scoring option to step up.

PREDICTION

This is a toss up. It could go either way. About the only think we can say with certainty is this will go at least six games. I’d like to think the Clippers are moving past the Donald Sterling fiasco and that will not impact them, but you can expect more revalations during the series, and them having to answer more questions about it. On the court the Clippers have better depth and a coach who can use guys like Jamal Crawford and DeAndre Jordan to create matchup problems (Crawford had 36 in one regular season meeting and was a problem all season for OKC). During the season the Thunder were better defensively and that could be their key — if OKC’s defense really steps up (and off it they get some buckets in transition off it) they have the upper hand. It will take the best of the Thunder to win this — Westbrook controlling the tempo and shooting a high percentage, Durant being Durant, a third scoring option stepping up — they have no margin for error.

Thunder in 7.

In least surprising NBA offseason news, Dwight Howard opts into $5.6 million with Wizards

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Dwight Howard played in just nine games for the Washington Wizards last season due to injury, mostly his chronic back issues. Howard also will be 34 years old before next season starts. Because of that, the offseason market for Howard as a free agent would be somewhere between frigid and “I just stuck my hand in liquid nitrogen.”

Not shockingly, Howard has decided to take the money on the table — “just” $5.6 million, but that still buys a lot of Skittles — and has opted into his deal with the Wizards, reports Zach Lowe of ESPN.

The Wizards are still searching for their next general manager after Ernie Grunfeld was (finally!) let go near the end of last season. Maybe Tommy Sheppard gets hired from in house, maybe owner Ted Leonsis decides to go outside the organization, but there seems to be no rush to make a decision.

That GM walks into one of the toughest jobs in the NBA because of how hamstrung the roster is. John Wall will make $38.2 million next season and may not play (or only play the end of the season) because of a torn Achilles. Bradley Beal will make $27.1 million and the team needs to decide whether to extend him (he can get a supermax extension if he makes an All-NBA team, and he’s on the bubble for that) or trade him and rebuild. Ian Mahinmi will make $15.5 million. There are decisions to be made on players such as Tomas Satoransky and Sam Dekkar.

And that GM will have Dwight Howard. Good luck with that.

Report: Warriors sent in tape to complain about Patrick Beverley’s defending Kevin Durant (VIDEO)

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The saga of Patrick Beverley vs. Kevin Durant continues. The two have gone back and forth, and Beverley has gotten the best of a Durant, at least more than most would expect. The series is split between the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers heading into Thursday night’s Game 3 matchup, and there is much at stake in L.A.

In an effort to curb Beverley’s comfortability with Durant, the Warriors sent in a tape to the NBA league office complaining about purported illegal defense by the Clippers guard. That’s according to a report from Fox Sports’ Nick Wright.

Speaking on “First Thing’s First”, Wright said the Warriors wanted the NBA to see the tape before tip for Game 3.

Via Fox Sports:

The Warriors team — the organization — sent the NBA a bunch of clips leading up to Game 3 of what they think is Patrick Beverley holding, clutching, grabbing… pushing.

For some this may be too rich coming from the Golden State organization. The team has made a living getting away with moving screens as a major part of their offense for years, and indeed on split cuts they certainly seem to grab a lot of jersey as a means to get some momentum started. Remember, this is the team with Andrew Bogut on it.

That said, teams sending tapes to the league office happens almost as often as a Kardashian is annoying. It’s a daily thing, and in the playoffs teams ramp that up. What the Warriors did is not unusual.

This kind of in-your-face play is something that happens during every single NBA game, and if you had to be defended by a NBA player you would be surprised by how much physical contact they get away with that is not called as a foul.

Are the Warriors whining or are they simply trying to get a leg up on their competition? We will have to wait until these teams go after each other again on Thursday to see how — or if — the referees officiate Beverley differently.

Nets fans post ‘missing’ posters of Ben Simmons before Game 3 (PHOTO)

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Ben Simmons did not perform well in Game 1 against the Brooklyn Nets. The Philadelphia 76ers star posted a stat line of just eight points with seven rebounds, three blocks, and three steals.

More concerning was Simmons’ apparent lack of desire to shoot. He seemed to fade in the big moments of the game, and scorn came swiftly for him social media after the 76ers loss. Philly fans even booed the Sixers on the court, which angered Simmons.

But Game 3 is upon us, although Joel Embiid is not playing,  and the series has shifted back to New York. As expected, fans in Brooklyn are doing their best to troll the Sixers.

Via Twitter:

We will see how Simmons responds after all of the back and forth about booing, not to mention his whole thing with Jared Dudley. If Simmons wants to be a star, now is the time to step up for his team with Embiid out.

Joel Embiid out with left knee soreness for Game 3 vs. Nets

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The Philadelphia 76ers will be without Joel Embiid on Thursday night as they take on the Brooklyn Nets in Game 3 of their first round series.

Embiid is battling left knee soreness and although he had a statistically-important performance as the Sixers took Game 2, it was obvious he was in some kind of reduced state of ability.

Veteran center Greg Monroe will start in Embiid’s place, but it will be hard for the Sixers to match Embiid’s production. The Cameroonian star is Philadelphia’s best player, and the 76ers are a hot and cold team.

Not having Embiid on the floor will seriously alter how they respond to the spunky Nets, who already took Game 1 from the higher-seeded Sixers.

The fact that Embiid needs to rest is also drawing some ire from folks on social media. The question is why Embiid did not rest earlier in the series — or even the end of the regular season when he was in and out of the lineup — and prepare for the coming playoff run?

However things go on Thursday, folks around the league will have their eyes glued to the injury report to see updates on Embiid’s status.