Thunder aim to continue turnaround vs. Clippers
The Los Angeles Clippers tightened their grip on a playoff spot the past few weeks and are now looking toward climbing the Western Conference standings.
The Clippers will get another chance Friday night when they host the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Los Angeles, which has won six of eight, is tied for eighth in the West with the San Antonio Spurs. They each have 16 games left.
The Clippers and Spurs have a four-game lead over the ninth-place Sacramento Kings, who have lost six of eight. The Los Angeles Lakers (1-6) and Minnesota Timberwolves (2-5) have also struggled over the past two weeks to drop out of the playoff race, with both sitting 6 1/2 games back of the Clippers and Spurs.
The Thunder had lost five of six before winning 129-121 in overtime at Portland on Thursday night. The result moved Oklahoma City back into third place in the West, a half-game up on the Houston Rockets.
"Got to get ready for (Friday)," Thunder guard Russell Westbrook told TNT after the game. "Everybody is fighting for playoff position."
The Thunder had a seven-game lead over the Clippers after beating the Trail Blazers 120-111 on Feb. 11, extending their winning streak to four games, but that gap has been trimmed to 3 1/2 games. The Jazz are in sixth place, 2 1/2 games behind the Thunder. Oklahoma City and Utah meet Monday in Salt Lake City.
The Clippers haven't played since a 113-105 win against the Lakers on Monday.
The Clippers have been feasting on a soft stretch of their schedule. They haven't beaten a team currently in a playoff spot since a 123-112 win at Boston on Feb. 9. Los Angeles lost to the only top-eight teams it has played since then, the Denver Nuggets (123-96) and the Jazz (111-105).
One of the bright spots for the Clippers of late has been the play of rookie point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who is averaging 14.3 points over the past four games to inch his scoring average into double figures for the season.
Gilgeous-Alexander got off to a strong start this season but has hit a number of lulls, most recently shooting 1-for-17 from the floor over a three-game stretch from Feb. 22-25.
"I love that he's gone through some struggles and had to fight himself out of it, and now he's playing again," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. "That's fantastic."
Gilgeous-Alexander hasn't been a factor in his first three meetings with the Thunder. He has combined for nine points on 3-for-10 shooting from the field, and the Clippers have dropped two of the three contests.
Oklahoma City and Los Angeles haven't squared off since Dec. 15, however, and the Clippers retooled their team with several moves at last month's trade deadline.
The Thunder haven't been the same since losing 131-122 to the New Orleans Pelicans on Feb. 14, a night the Pelicans were without star center Anthony Davis in the second half after he injured his shoulder.
Oklahoma City won a double-overtime game against the visiting Jazz on Feb. 22 but then lost four in a row. The Thunder regrouped with narrow 99-95 win against the Memphis Grizzlies, who are 14th in the West, then lost to the Timberwolves before rebounding Thursday.
"It was a playoff game," guard Terrance Ferguson told the Thunder's website after the victory over the Trail Blazers. "We knew that coming into today. It was going to be a battle the whole game. Everybody stepped up to the plate, everybody put their all in, and everybody left it all on the floor."
--Field Level Media
Updated March 8, 2019