The Oklahoma City Thunder slipped up with a chance to pull closer to winning the Northwest Division title in their most recent game, but they should feel confident in their ability to bounce back.
Losing streaks have been a rarity as the Thunder have separated themselves from the pack in the Northwest, and they’ll try to avoid their first one since late February in Saturday night’s visit with the Los Angeles Clippers.
Oklahoma City (50-25) dropped three consecutive games against contenders to close February, but it didn’t let losses to San Antonio, Orlando and the Los Angeles Lakers shake its confidence.
Instead, the Thunder enjoyed the best month in franchise history by going 14-2 in March to double its division lead over Denver to five. That shrunk to four Friday as the Nuggets won in Sacramento while Oklahoma City had its five-game winning streak snapped with a 98-91 loss in Portland, but Kevin Durant(notes) wasn’t about to panic - even after missing 11 straight shots.
“The shots I was missing, I just have to laugh at,” said Durant, who finished 9 for 24. “I was doing all the things I usually do and they just didn’t fall.”
The Thunder have tended to respond awfully well after losses. They’re 18-5 following a defeat, and they’ve also done an excellent job winning games they’re supposed to. Since Nov. 15, Oklahoma City is 28-5 against teams currently below .500.
The Clippers (29-47) surprised the Thunder on Nov. 3 at Staples Center, winning 107-92 behind 27 points from Eric Gordon(notes). Durant shot 6 of 24 from the field - including 0 for 10 from 3-point range.
Durant again struggled with his shot Feb. 22 against Los Angeles, missing 13 of 21, but Oklahoma City cruised to a 111-88 win despite Blake Griffin(notes) finishing with 28 points, 11 boards and eight assists.
The Thunder shot 47.4 percent in the second meeting after connecting just 37.8 percent of the time in the first, and it’s no secret the key to beating them lies in limiting their open looks. Oklahoma City is 34-6 when it shoots 47.0 percent or better, and 16-19 otherwise.
Similarly, the Thunder are 27-3 if Durant hits at least half of his shots.
The Clippers figure to be in trouble if they defend like they did Friday in Phoenix. Even with two-time MVP Steve Nash(notes) out with the flu, the Suns carved up Los Angeles, shooting 51.9 percent and taking advantage of 21 Clippers turnovers in a 111-98 win.
“I don’t think we had much energy tonight,” coach Vinny Del Negro said. “We let Phoenix run where they wanted to when they wanted to.”
Los Angeles has typically needed to play to play outstanding defense - or take advantage of some opponents’ off nights - to have a chance to win. The Clippers are 17-7 when their opponents shoot 42.0 percent or worse, and 12-40 when they top that mark.
Not having center Chris Kaman(notes) on Friday certainly hurt Los Angeles on the interior. Kaman missed the game with a viral infection and is questionable Saturday, which would leave DeAndre Jordan(notes) little help against Kendrick Perkins(notes) and Serge Ibaka(notes) up front.