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Thunder and Clippers Tied for Top Spot in the NBA

Kevin Durant

Durant's Thunder find themselves sharing the top spot with the Clippers.

At 32-9, both the Los Angeles Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder share the top spot in the National Basketball Association and how they got there is a bit surprising. Despite 37 and 36 points respectively from Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the Thunder dropped a 121-118 overtime game in Denver Sunday night.  The loss dropped OKC into the tie with the Clippers for the best overall record in the league.

I say ‘surprising’ only because when you get a combined 73 points from your big two players, you shouldn’t lose too many games. Denver is a nice team who will certainly be in the playoffs, but still, I was surprised by the outcome. The Clippers meanwhile have won four straight including three straight while Chris Paul was on the pine with an injury. The fact that Oklahoma City is where they are isn’t shocking, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit surprised by the Clips.

How the teams have both gotten here is a little different and I want break down some key stats here.

  • Points Per Game: Clippers 7th (101.6), Thunder 1st (106.0)
  • Rebounds Per Game: Clippers 16th (42.2), Thunder 10th (43.2)
  • Assists Per Game: Clippers 3rd (23.5), Thunder 18th (21.6)
  • Points Allowed per Game: Clippers 4th (92.7), Thunder 15th (97.0)

    Chris Paul

    Paul has to stay healthy for the Clippers to hang with the Thunder.

First the obvious… Both teams can score points and can do so in a variety of ways. Whether shooting straight jump-shots, driving to the goal or turning to the inside game, each team can accomplish their goals with guys like Durant and Chris Paul. Paul is tremendous of the dribble and has a stable of guys he give to for the finish. Durant is obviously a different sized and different player overall than Paul. He is difficult to stop because he probably shoots the ball better than anyone in the Association but can also take you off the dribble. His length makes him extremely difficult to keep from the basket.

Both teams rebound the ball decently, but not overally great. Don’t be misled by the rankings though because they are separated by just one rebound per game. The key as it always is in rebounding is comparing each end of the floor. The Clippers are almost two rebounds better per game on the offensive end. Might not sound like a lot but consider that could be two extra buckets per game which in the NBA has a big impact.

Defensively is another area where the team’s vary greatly. The Clippers allow about five points per game less than do the Thunder and ironically, that’s about the same difference that OKC leads LAC by in points scored per game. Should these two eventually meet in a Western Conference Finals match-up, those numbers will come into play significantly in my opinion. Ultimately, who will have the upper hand? The more offensive Thunder or the more defensive Clippers?

The not so obvious…While the rankings for assists are drastically different, they really aren’t that far off. The Clippers average less than two more assists per game than do the Thunder so I wouldn’t fall in love with that statistic.

The X Factors… Both Durant and Westbrook rank in the top 10 in scoring while the highest Clipper in scoring is Blake Griffin with 17.8 points per game. That’s more than five points less than Westbrook’s current average. Chris Paul follows up Griffin with 17.0 per game. While the Clippers get the job done with balance, the Thunder clearly depend more heavily on the power of their two stars. Normally I’d say teamwork prevails and quite often it does, but can the Clippers afford to get into scoring contests with OKC?

I say ‘no’ and that’s why right now I believe the Thunder are just that much better than their counter-parts from LA.



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