After kicking off its five-game road trip in Denver on Tuesday, the Thunder now have a prolonged stay in Los Angeles as the group begins its first “mini-series” of the season with a pair of consecutive matchups against the LA Clippers.
This trip marks the second five-game road stint of the month for the Thunder who opened up January with an East Coast tour and emerged 4-1. To start its West Coast trip, OKC fell to Denver in a game defined by second-chance points and points off turnovers. Even though the Thunder executed neatly in its first-shot defense, Denver scored 25 of its 65 points off offensive rebounds in the first half. The Thunder, resilient as ever, worked to course-correct that trend in the second half and only allowed seven in the final two frames. However, it wouldn’t be enough to overcome the wide margin created by Denver in the third quarter.
“That was kind of the game in the first half,” said Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault following Tuesday’s game. That’s the reason why they’re a good team. They make you do everything well and obviously we didn’t do that well enough in terms of gang rebounding. We did try to address it at halftime. I thought the guys did make a concerted effort to move forward there, but it was a little too much.”
Thunder guard Lu Dort paced the squad’s offense with his second-consecutive 20-point game for the first time in his career. The second-year guard not only held Denver’s Jamal Murray to just a five-point performance on the defensive end, but also went 3-of-6 from behind the arc on offense. Dort, who made just 30 threes in all 36 of his games last season, surpassed that total in the first 13 games of his second year as he now has 31 made triples while shooting at a team-high 43.7-percent clip.
sun down, shots up. pic.twitter.com/13F3xv5SEg
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) January 22, 2021
With their 115-96 win over Sacramento on Wednesday, the Clippers ride a five-game winning streak as they host the Thunder at Staples Center. Led by Kawhi Leonard and Paul George who are 17th and 18th in the league respectively in points per game, the Clippers boast the league’s second-highest offensive rating (117.1).
Along with the headlining playmakers in Leonard and George, several additional factors play into Los Angeles’ ability to post an average of 114.9 points per contest. First, the group leads the league so far this season in 3-point percentage (44.1) and averages 15.5 made threes per contest. Eight Clippers have shot at a clip of 40 percent or greater from behind the arc so far this season, with guard sharp-shooter Luke Kennard leading the way at 51.0 percent off the bench.
Additionally, the Clippers’ defense has made a living off of translating opponent turnovers into offense on the other end. In its last game against Sacramento, Los Angeles turned the Kings’ 18 turnovers into 29 points on the opposite end. In that game, Leonard recorded a season-high six steals to add to the teams’ season-high total of 14. Overall, the Clippers are fourth in the league in points off turnovers with the help of Leonard, George and Nicolas Batum all averaging at least one steal per night.
Kawhi Leonard recorded a game-high 32 points on Wednesday against Sacramento and so far this season, the Claw has put up 28.3 points per game and shooting a staggering 57.0 percent when playing inside of Staples Center. It will take all five players in a Thunder uniform locked into the whereabouts of Leonard and providing support to perimeter defenders like Dort in order to limit Leonard and make his playmaking ability as difficult as possible.
Stat to Watch
Turnovers – A consistent theme for the Clippers over their last five wins has been their defense. While the group has put up the most points per game during that time frame, 23.4 of their 124.4 points have come from opponent turnovers. As for the Thunder, taking care of the ball and limiting turnovers will play a major role in limiting the Clippers’ offensive production.
One constant for the Thunder throughout its first 13 games of the season has been its ball movement on the offensive end. Coach Daigneault’s squad has demonstrated this key tenet on the stat sheet with 11 games so far this season with over 20 assists. With six players on the roster averaging 10 or more points per game, OKC has taken advantage of its wealth of shooters by sharing the ball and working to generate the best look on the floor.