NBA: High-scoring Thunder, Clippers to meet

Published May 4, 2014 6:53 pm

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Oklahoma City • The Los Angeles Clippers initially were reeling after incendiary racial comments by owner Donald Sterling that got him banned from the NBA for life.

The team unified and rallied to beat the Golden State Warriors in seven games, setting up a Western Conference semifinal against Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder that starts Monday.

"For us, it's basketball," Clippers point guard Chris Paul said. "Had we lost this game, it wasn't like they were going to let us go to the next round because of what we've been through. I think it just showed our will, our fight."

The Thunder fought through a different kind of challenge — a familiar foe with a difficult style, surviving a grind-it-out series against the Memphis Grizzlies and prevailing in seven games.

There should be a lot less grinding and a lot more running and gunning in this matchup.

Los Angeles led the NBA in scoring during the regular season with 107.9 points per game.

"This team runs at a high level, they pass the ball up the floor at a high level," Durant said. "They advance the ball, they have athletic guys and shooters all around. Our defense is going to be tested."

Durant is the league's scoring champion, and point guard Russell Westbrook is one of the NBA's best athletes. The Thunder ranked fifth with 106.2 points per contest.

All-Star forward Blake Griffin said playing the Warriors helped them get ready for the Thunder.

"Defensively, it prepared us to really be on our rotations and understand that nothing is going to be perfect, but we just have got to work it out," he said.

Here are five things to watch for in the series:

Is Durant really back? • Durant struggled through the Memphis series before returning to form. In the first five games, he averaged 28 points and shot 40 percent from the field. In the last two games, he averaged 34.5 points and shot 56 percent.

Paul's hamstring • Paul has been dealing with a sore right hamstring, a bad problem to have against Oklahoma City's speed. Memphis' Mike Conley entered Game 7 with a strained hamstring, and Westbrook finished with a triple-double.

Griffin vs. Ibaka • Griffin ranked sixth in the league with 24.1 points per game in the regular season. He is usually the dominant athlete in his matchups, but Ibaka, who led the NBA in total blocks in the regular season and was fourth in the Defensive Player of the Year balloting, might be his match.

Will Westbrook pass? • For much of the first five games against Memphis, Westbrook shot 34 percent from the field and averaged 25.4 points on 25.6 shot attempts as his team fell behind 3-2. In the final two games, he shot 51 percent from the field, averaged 26 points on 18.5 shots per game and added 10.5 assists as the Thunder rolled to two blowout wins.

Does L.A. have anything left? • The Clippers acknowledge that the Sterling situation has taken its toll. They played a tough seven-game series and follow it with Game 1 on the road two days later against a team that had the league's second-best home record at 34-7. The Clippers won at Oklahoma City 125-117 on Feb. 23 under different circumstances.

"It's tough to win in OKC," Clippers forward Matt Barnes said. "These playoffs aren't going to be easy, but we've won there this season, and we're looking to go up there and get one." —

Thunder vs. Clippers

Monday • at Oklahoma City, 7:30 p.m., TNT

Wednesday • at Oklahoma City, 7:30 p.m., TNT

Friday • at L.A. Clippers, 8:30 p.m., ESPN

May 11 • at L.A. Clippers, 1:30 p.m., Ch. 4

x-May 13 • at Oklahoma City, TBD, TNT

x-May 15 • at L.A. Clippers, TBD, ESPN

x-May 18 • at Oklahoma City, TBD, TNT

x • if necessary Western semifinals • Clippers vs. Thunder

Monday • at OKC, 7:30 p.m., TNT

Wed. • at OKC, 7:30 p.m., TNT

Friday • at L.A., 8:30 p.m., ESPN

May 11 • at L.A., 1:30 p.m., Ch. 4

x-May 13 • at OKC, TBD, TNT

x-May 15 • at L.A., TBD, ESPN

x-May 18 • at OKC, TBD, TNT

x • If necessary