By Ian Palmer
The Oklahoma City Thunder head west this Thursday, October 30 to open their 2014/15 NBA season against the Los Angeles Clippers at the Staples Center. The Thunder took the Clippers out in seven games in last year’s playoffs, but will have to start this season without reigning NBA MVP Kevin Durant. Like last year’s postseason series, this matchup should be another close encounter between two of the league’s better teams.
Oklahoma City will have to learn how to get along without the services of Durant for the first several weeks of the season the same way they had to do without Russell Westbrook to begin the 2013/14 campaign. Durant led the league in scoring last term with 32 points per game and he also averaged five assists and seven rebounds each outing. Head coach Scott Brooks will have a hard time replacing those numbers and he’ll be looking for Westbrook to hopefully make up for some of them.
Westbrook enjoyed playing against the Clippers in last year’s playoffs since he scored just under 28 points per game in the series along with nine assists and six rebounds on average. His field shooting percentage was 49. Fans could also see Reggie Jackson start against the Clippers. He wasn’t much of a factor in last year’s playoffs with an average of nine points a game and he played just a pair of preseason games due to a wrist injury. If he’s healthy he could play to help out Westbrook. Jackson’s regular-season scoring average was 13 points per game last campaign.
Thabo Sefolosha left the Thunder during the summer and this means Anthony Morrow could take his spot. Morrow’s career three-point shooting stands at 42 per cent. Serge Ibaka’s job will be to guard against Blake Griffin, but he also needs to chip in offensively. He scored an average of 16.3 points per game against the Clippers last season with a 66 per cent shooting average. Oklahoma enters the game with a 7-1 record ATS in their past eight road meetings with the Clippers.
The Clippers went 57-25 last season, for their finest-ever campaign and will try to match or better that total this year. They were 34-7 at home last year, which tied them with Oklahoma as the best in the West. The Clippers boasted the league’s best offense last year when it comes to points per game and the NBA’s Offensive Rating. All-Stars Blake Griffin and Chris Paul led the way offensively. Griffin averaged 24 points per game with seven rebounds while Chris Paul had 19 points and 11 assists per contest. The club also got 18.6 points a game from Jamal Crawford and 15 from J.J. Redick.
The Clippers won’t miss playing against Durant and they can play Redick and Crawford together for more offense without having to worry about the league’s MVP burning them. Los Angeles acquired the reliable Spencer Hawes during the offseason and he’ll be able to come off the bench and add some depth. The center averaged career bests with 13 points and eight rebounds per game last year along with 1.6 three-pointers with the Cavaliers and 76ers. The Clippers could be too much for the Thunder to handle in this one, especially without Durant in the lineup.