Clippers-Thunder Preview

The Associated Press

The Oklahoma City Thunder are atop the Western Conference, but that could change Wednesday night.

The Los Angeles Clippers need a win or they could also fall in the tightly bunched West standings.

Oklahoma City goes for its third consecutive victory overall and fourth in a row at home over the Clippers in the first of two games between these teams over the next six days.

A season-worst three-game skid last week dropped the Thunder (42-15) percentage points behind surging San Antonio for the top spot in the conference. They regained first place Monday when they defeated Milwaukee 109-89 and the Spurs' 11-game winning streak ended at Utah.

"It reaffirmed we are definitely a top-tier team in this league,'' point guard Russell Westbrook said after scoring a team-best 26 points and handing out seven assists.

The Thunder have two of the top scorers in the NBA in Westbrook (24.2 points per game) and Kevin Durant (27.6), but it's their defense that could help them make a deep postseason run. Among the league's best by holding teams to 42.5 percent shooting, Oklahoma City has limited six April opponents to 38.4 percent and 89.5 points.

The Thunder also have 16 steals and 20 blocked shots since their last loss. Serge Ibaka had five blocks against the Bucks while Thabo Sefolosha set a career high with seven steals.

"I thought our defensive mindset was outstanding from the start,'' coach Scott Brooks said of Oklahoma City building a 35-18 first-quarter lead Monday.

The Thunder are 24-5 at home, but they could find themselves back in second place by the end of Wednesday if they lose and the Spurs defeat the Lakers.

The fourth-place Clippers (34-23) could drop one spot if they fall to the Thunder and fifth-place Memphis defeats Phoenix. Los Angeles has won eight of 10 but failed to earn a third straight victory Monday, falling 94-85 at Memphis.

"We are going back and forth," All-Star forward Blake Griffin said of the Clippers and Grizzlies. "We very likely could (face each other in the playoffs), and we are excited about that.''

While securing the fourth seed and home-court advantage in the opening round is important, so is rebounding - something the Clippers weren't very good at to begin their three-game trip.

"We put a lot of pressure on ourselves because we didn't shoot the ball well (40.5 percent) or rebound the ball well (36 to Memphis' 48)," coach Vinny Del Negro said.

The Clippers grabbed 18 fewer rebounds than the Thunder in their last game in Oklahoma City, a 114-91 loss March 21.

Griffin is among the league leaders with 10.9 boards per game, but he had just seven in that contest at Chesapeake Energy Arena. He also finished with a career-low seven points after Thunder center Kendrick Perkins committed a hard foul against him in the first quarter.

Griffin, an Oklahoma City native, did throw down a spectacular one-handed dunk over Perkins in the Clippers' 112-100 home win over the Thunder on Jan. 30.

All-Star point guard Chris Paul went 12 of 16 from the field and scored 26 points with 14 assists in the January matchup, but was held to 13 and 3-of-12 shooting in the March contest. He did have 10 assists and five steals in that game.

Durant leads the Thunder with 68 points and 22 rebounds in those two meetings.

The home team has won six in a row in this series, and Oklahoma City has outscored Los Angeles 112.3-95.7 in its three consecutive home wins over the Clippers. Los Angeles hosts the Thunder on Monday.

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