Game 61 Pregame Primer: Thunder (37-23) vs. Clippers (41-19)natashapanchal.com / sublime50illustrations

Game 61 Pregame Primer: Thunder (37-23) vs. Clippers (41-19)

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ESPN preview

Tip-off:

7pm @ Chesapeake Energy Arena, 📺 Fox Sports Oklahoma

Projected starting lineups:

Oklahoma CityLos Angeles
PG: Chris PaulPG: Patrick Beverley
SG: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander SG: Paul George
SF: Lu DortSF: Kawhi Leonard
PF: Danilo Gallinari PF: Marcus Morris Sr.
C: Steven AdamsC: Ivica Zubac

3 Big Things:

PG13 Indifference

Paul George took some time while he was in town to donate/dedicate a fishing dock. He is a noted fisherman and this is unquestionably a kind and thoughtful thing to do. He not only donated it, but he took the time to be there for the unveiling. Not sure on the details, but my presumption is that this was something that had wheels in motion while he played here and he made good on it even after the trade. This falls in line with most things I’ve ever heard about him—nice guy. His return (albeit his second return this year) comes with a little bit of social media back and forth about how fans feel about PG and his “legacy” in OKC. I wouldn’t say there is a raging debate over this, but there are some fairly strong opinions on either end. For me? I am 100% “meh.” I have absolutely no emotional reaction to PG13, his time here, his return, etc. Complete Indifference.

I wasn’t a massive PG fan during his Pacer days because I thought there was a little fire missing that I couldn’t quite pinpoint. That said, I was certainly excited when he was traded to OKC. I enjoyed watching him here. His decision to stay was very uplifting and exciting at the time. The first half of last year was incredible. But then, like most things PG13, it kind of just fell flat at the end (certainly not all his fault, and he was clearly playing hurt down the stretch and in the playoffs). While it may very well turn out to be a franchise-defining moment for the Thunder (in a positive way), I lost some respect for him with the trade request.

Maybe I’m just an Old Gen X’er (don’t call me a Boomer)1 but I’m just not down with dudes under contract pushing their way out to play with their buddies or other stars at the first sign of difficulty in their current spot. It’s just competitively weak. It’s lame. It’s nice he didn’t go public first and it’s nice the Thunder were able to leverage him as an asset. So, I harbor no ill will towards him and have no desire to boo or taunt him. I also have no desire to give him a Standing O or break my hand patting him on the back. A polite golf clap will suffice for me. He has superstar skills, an all-star resume, and a role player’s mentality. Overall, a very good player. But one who’s whole may not QUITE equal the sum of his parts. So, Welcome back. Or not. Whatever.

The Seeding Push

The Thunder have all but clinched no worse than the 7 seed. Looking at the standings, you see they only sit two games behind Houston at 4 with Utah sandwiched in between. No matter what happens tonight, I anticipate the Thunder being engaged in the race for a top 4 seed for at least the next several weeks. It’s a completely realistic goal at this point. What could fade quickly is any notion of jumping even higher than that. The Nuggets and Clips are currently tied for 2/3 seeds, four games ahead of the Thunder. Making up four games with 22 to go isn’t impossible by any stretch—especially considering they play two with the Clips and one with the Nuggets. But if that type of move is going to be made, it needs to be made NOW. As in, tonight. Pretty massive difference coming out of this 3 back from the Clippers as opposed to 5.

I’m not personally overly concerned about making a run at the 2/3 as that would so exceed any expectations that I’m not sure even how to put that into words. However, this is a swing game tonight for me in terms of where the focus lies the rest of the season. Win, and it’s very much a “why not” moment and you can start dreaming even more. Lose, and I think the focus becomes on catching Houston and Utah while mostly ignoring the Clippers and Nuggets.

Test Time

Who knows with how the Clippers operate what they could decide at the last-minute tonight, but as of now it appears we will be seeing them with both PG13 and Kawhi in the line-up. LA hasn’t played since Sunday afternoon and the Thunder haven’t played since Friday night. Both teams are about as rested and healthy as you will see this time of the year. I also don’t really see any “law of averages” types of advantages for either team entering this game. What all this means to me is that we should see a fairly close approximation to what a playoff series between these two teams (a distinct possibility) would look like. Of course, playoff intensity and motivation is different. But for those curious about whether or not OKC can REALLY play bigboy ball out West, I think we might at least get a little closer to finding out tonight.

Players and coaches always say every game is the same and blah blah blah, but we all know that isn’t true. There will absolutely be more juice in the arena tonight than there will be say, tomorrow night when the Thunder play in Detroit. Players feel it. Coaches feel it. Fans feel it. I have a feeling this game gets played tonight at that not-quite-playoff-but-not-quite-regular-season-level-either intensity. Should be fun. Probably won’t be meh.

Game poll:

Who's winning tonight?

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