PLAYA VISTA, Calif. – The Los Angeles Clippers (55-23) head into Wednesday night’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder (56-21) acknowledging how important is is in terms of preparing for the playoffs. With just four games left in the regular season, a matchup against the team right above them in the rankings is the perfect opportunity to inch up closer to the No. 2 spot in the West.
“Yeah, definitely is something to it [meaning of game vs OKC],” Chris Paul said before Tuesday morning’s practice. “It’s a big game for us, I think we’re up 2-1 right now [in the season series]. Obviously being one game behind, always wanna move up as much as possible to get home court if it comes to it.”
Standing in their way will be the consistently dominant Kevin Durant whose streak of 25-point games came to an end after 41 games Tuesday against the Sacramento Kings. He’s deadly from any spot on the court and puts pressure on the defense by attacking the rim often. According to NBA.com’s Player Tracking Data provided by SportsVU, Durant shoots a remarkable 58 percent from the field on drives.
“You gotta know where he’s at all times, ” Blake Griffin said before Tuesday morning’s practice. “You just make it a little tough for him. Can’t give him easy, open looks. He’s gonna make shots, he’s gonna get his points. He’s just the best scorer in the world, in my opinion. So you know, it’s just a matter of trying to make it tough for him, not really trying to ‘stop’ him.”
While the national spotlight might shine a little brighter on Durant, Griffin’s improvement through hard work and persistence has earned him some high praise from teammate J.J. Redick.
“The other day, I guess it was Saturday, we had practice,” Redick said Tuesday morning. “He [Griffin] went and saw his personal trainer before practice and then came in here and worked out. He’s in every rep for practice and he works on his game after practice. He’s constantly trying to get better. With his level of natural talent, he’ll be one of the all time greats.”
Griffin’s biggest improvement has come at the free throw line, where’s he’s attempting 8.4 attempts on average per game
. It’s the second-highest average of his career, just a notch below the 8.5 in 2010-2011. The only difference is he is currently shooting 71 percent compared to the 64.2 percent from his first season played in the NBA. Griffin has the confidence to attack without the worry of missing crucial free throws.
In three games vs Oklahoma City this season, Griffin has averaged 23 points, 9.7 rebounds and 6 assists in 37 minutes of action. Despite being the victim of hard fouls in all 77 games he has started, Griffin doesn’t expect to take any nights off to rest for the playoffs.
“It’s not my call or my decision,” Griffin said.
The Thunder will be on the second night of a back-to-back and may half tired legs in the second half of Wednesday’s game. Given that the Clippers are No. 2 in the league in second half point differential, the season series going towards Los Angeles could be useful in case a tie breaker is required after game number 82.
Photo Credit: Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images
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Rohit is an L.A.-based sports journalist who contributes to SB Nation's Silver Screen and Roll, AccuScore, and the Taxi Squad Show based out of Utah. He also runs his own sports blog, Metta Chronicles. Follow him on Twitter @RohitGhosh
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