Almost everything has gone right for the Oklahoma City Thunder as they have sprinted to the league's best record. They look to continue the strong play as their three-game road trip continues Monday night against the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center.
Oklahoma City (16-3) has won four straight overall and enters this game 8-2 on the road following its 120-109 victory at Golden State on Friday night. Kevin Durant scored a season-high 37 points while pulling down 14 rebounds, and point guard Russell Westbrook added 28 points, 11 assists, seven steals and six boards as the Thunder rolled up a 58-28 advantage in points in the paint and a 32-15 edge in free throws made.
"If we play the right way and play team basketball, I don't think there are too many teams that can beat us,'' Westbrook said.
Though it was one of Westbrook's best all-around games this season, he also matched a season high with seven turnovers - something he's done five times. The Thunder are one of the league's sloppiest teams, averaging 16.8 turnovers, but coach Scott Brooks appears willing to overlook that number as his club continues to find ways to win.
"We have good players, good players that want to be coached that have a high will to win," he said during practice Sunday. "They're competitive in practices and every trip down the court. We're just trying to strive to play with better execution. We're an aggressive team... we overcome offensive rebounds, turnovers, we somehow overcome that with the desire to win and keep making players and never giving up in a game."
Those turnovers may be more costly against the likes of Chris Paul, who has helped turn the perennially moribund Clippers (11-6) into viable playoff contenders in the always challenging Western Conference. While playing for the New Orleans Hornets last year, Paul averaged 18.5 points and 8.8 assists in four games against the Thunder, totaling 35 assists and 15 steals with only 10 turnovers.
Westbrook did average 20.5 points and 9.8 assists in the head-to-head matchups with Paul, but committed 24 turnovers.
"He's clever, tough, he's a coach on the floor," Brooks said of Paul. "He makes Blake (Griffin) better because he finds him in the right spots. It's a perfect combination. He gets to a height NBA teams have never seen before. We can't give a team its strength and that's one of their strengths."
Paul and Griffin did their jobs Sunday night at Denver, combining for 42 points, but backcourt running mate Chauncey Billups stole the show with six 3-pointers and 32 points in the Clippers' 109-105 victory. Billups, still revered in Denver for helping turn around the Nuggets, also drew a key offensive foul that preserved the win for Los Angeles.
"Chauncey's like me. It doesn't matter where you play, you want to win,'' Paul said. "You couldn't care less if you're at home or you're a thousand miles away from home, you just want to win.''
Billups averaged 23.0 points in two games against Oklahoma City in 2010-11, shooting 17 of 27 (63.0 percent). Griffin had double-doubles in three of the Clippers' four games versus the Thunder, averaging 26.8 points and 11.8 rebounds.
Starting Thunder guard Thabo Sefolosha, who sat out the second half of Saturday's victory with a sore right foot, is questionable for this game.
The home team won each of the four games in last season's series, with the Thunder shooting 20.0 percent (8 for 40) from 3-point range and 39.5 percent overall in two defeats at Staples Center.