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CLIPPERS FYI

Clippers are looking forward to big game against Oklahoma City

Clippers are trailing the Thunder by half a game for second best in the conference, and know nationally televised game has playoff implications. The Thunder has won two previous matchups this season.

March 02, 2013|By Broderick Turner
  • Clippers forward Blake Griffin, left, and Oklahoma City Thunder forward Serge Ibaka battle for a rebound.
Clippers forward Blake Griffin, left, and Oklahoma City Thunder forward… (Mark J. Terrill / Associated…)

They are two of the best teams in the NBA, two teams shadowing each other in the Western Conference.

So when the Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder meet Sunday at Staples Center in a nationally televised game, it will be a game that has significance for both teams.

The Clippers have the third-best record in the West at 43-18 and trail the 42-16 Thunder by just half a game for the second best in the conference.

"It's a big game," Chris Paul said. "We're trying to catch those guys and the only way you can catch them is to hand them a loss."

The San Antonio Spurs have the best record in the NBA at 46-14 — the Miami Heat (42-14) has the second-best mark in the league — and are three games ahead of the Thunder and 31/2 ahead of the Clippers.

The Clippers are fully aware they are battling the Thunder for playoff positioning.

It is "another good test for us," Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro said. "I know the guys are looking forward to it."

The Clippers lost their first two games to the Thunder, the first one in overtime and the second by 12 points at home.

Paul didn't play in the second game because of a bruised right kneecap.

"We've got to play a solid basketball game and get our crowd into the game and have great energy," Del Negro said. "It'll come down to making plays. That's what you've got to do."

As both teams head down the stretch of the regular season, the Clippers have just 21 games left and the Thunder 24.

This will be the last regular-season meeting between the two teams.

"There's still a lot of basketball left," Del Negro said. "But whenever you're playing one of the top teams, you want to see where you're at."

Tough duo

First, Blake Griffin smiled. Then he shook his head and laughed.

He had been asked what the biggest defensive problems the Clippers would face against the Thunder.

"The guy named Kevin Durant and the guy Russell Westbrook," Griffin said. "They are tough to stop. They can score in a hurry and they can score a lot. So slowing them down and then just making other guys beat us is the key."

Durant and Westbrook are the highest scoring duo in the NBA, combining to average 51.8 points per game.

Durant is second in the NBA in scoring, averaging 28.5 points per game. Westbrook is tied for sixth in scoring, averaging 23.6 points.

"Everybody tries to deal with them, but they are hard to deal with," Del Negro said. "That's why they have such a good record and went to the Finals last year. They've been together. We're going to have to do a good job with our coverages overall."

broderick.turner@latimes.com

Twitter: @BA_Turner

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