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Tonight’s late-night battle of 1-4 teams may be one of three games both the Thunder franchise and fans may be most motivated to win this season.
Moreso than beating Kevin Durant and the Nets or Russell Westbrook and the Lakers or Draymond Green and the Warriors, OKC has extra incentive to defeat Paul George and the Clippers.
No, this has nothing to do with PG13 claiming he had “unfinished business” in Oklahoma City and then boarding Air Kawhi to Los Angeles one summer later. And no, this isn’t referencing Reggie Jackson, although thumping the Thunder’s former “starting point guard” is always a nice bonus. The only other former OKC player on the LAC roster is Serge Ibaka and he’ll be a beloved Thunder legend forever and ever, amen.
The Thunder’s want to win is courtesy of the Clippers’ upcoming unprotected 1st round pick owed to OKC. The three Thunder vs Clippers games this season represent the three times OKC can help their 2022 Draft by winning instead of losing.
The Thunder dealt with the ultimate bad lottery luck last season when they had a 76% chance to land one top-5 player and a 23% chance to come away with two top 5s between their own pick and Houston’s rock bottom finish. Tonight’s opponent played a major part in OKC’s dwindled ping pong balls, as the Clippers tanked their season finale in an act straight out of the Cowardly Lion’s playbook to avoid the purple and yellow brick road.
Of course, the Rockets ended up with Jalen Green at #2 and the Thunder selected Josh Giddey at #6. Every analyst and fan concluded Houston’s rebuild was basically over and the Thunder’s was stuck in mud as a result. OKC’s JG being a better player than Houston’s JG is a conversation for another journal, but let’s just say maybe Thunder fans should be thanking Daniel Oturu and his 30 failed post ups.
This season could end up being what last season was supposed to be.
On the Thunder side, there is no pesky near-All-Star level veteran like Al Horford to jeopardize primo pick placement.
On the Clippers side, there is no pesky protection on the pick that can sway it from going from #5 and Jalen Suggs all the way to #18 and Tre Mann.
The Clippers aren’t as bad as their 1-4 record. But Kawhi Leonard isn’t walking through that door until maybe March at the earliest, if at all this season. Reggie Jackson isn’t transforming into the point guard he thinks he is. Paul George’s long term health won’t be compromised, so he may sit some games if he gets nicked and bruised. It’s not likely Los Angeles loses like Houston last season, but a bad start, a tough division and a lack of assets to improve the roster could mean LA’s playoff hopes get clipped.
Enter OKC’s first of three opportunities to help the cause.
Sam Presti is celebrating his 44th birthday today. Fitting that the Thunder are playing the Clippers so that he can blow out 44 candles on his birthday cake in honor of each of the 1st round picks he stole from them.