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Clippers' forecast calls for lots of Thunder in March, perhaps a good thing as teams vie for playoff seeding

Clippers' forecast calls for lots of Thunder in March, perhaps a good thing as teams vie for playoff seeding
Chris Paul is averaging 19.9 points with 9.6 assists per game and has registered 27 double-doubles. (Ezra Shaw / Getty Images)

Oklahoma City has something the Clippers want: a path to the Western Conference finals that would not include the terrors known as the Golden State Warriors.

Fortunately for the Clippers, there is lots of Thunder on the horizon.

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The teams vying for the No. 3 playoff seeding in the West will play three times over the next 30 days, starting Wednesday night at Staples Center. The Clippers and Thunder will meet again March 9 and March 31 in Oklahoma City.

Oklahoma City (42-18) holds a 2 1/2-game lead over the Clippers (39-20) in the standings. Whichever team finishes third would likely face the San Antonio Spurs in the second round, avoiding a Warriors team that could secure the best regular-season record in NBA history.

Clippers Coach Doc Rivers has said he doesn't care where his team lands in the standings as much as he does about winning games and getting all of his players back.

The team suffered a setback on the injury front Monday against the Brooklyn Nets when small forward Luc Mbah a Moute sustained a lacerated left eyelid while apparently being inadvertently struck by teammate DeAndre Jordan. Mbah a Moute is listed as questionable for the game against the Thunder, potentially depriving the Clippers of one of their top defenders.

"I think individually at that three-four position, he's our best defender, so we'll miss that," Clippers shooting guard J.J. Redick said while discussing the possible absence of Mbah a Moute, "but I'm confident in our team's ability to defend. I don't think our defense is just on one guy. So I think we'll have a huge challenge Wednesday and missing Luc — he probably would have guarded K.D. [Kevin Durant] and been on [Serge] Ibaka too, so we'll definitely miss him."

There was also some uncertainty regarding reserve guard Austin Rivers, who was listed as questionable after missing the previous 10 games because of a broken left hand. Rivers' presence would mean more rest for starting point guard Chris Paul, who has seen a significant uptick in playing time over the last month.

A matchup featuring three of the NBA's top players in Paul and Oklahoma City's Durant and Russell Westbrook will be devoid of maximum star power with the Clippers' Blake Griffin sitting out his 30th consecutive game because of a quadriceps injury and a broken hand. By late Wednesday night, Griffin will have missed as many games as he has played in this season.

Griffin also won't play in the teams' next meeting but could be back by the game at the end of the month after recovering from his broken hand and serving a four-game suspension for punching team assistant equipment manager Matias Testi in January at a Toronto restaurant.

His return would put a new spin on a matchup that could otherwise seem a little repetitive in the coming weeks.

"That's how the playoffs are set up," Clippers guard Jamal Crawford said of playing a team like the Thunder in rapid-fire succession, "so if we can play a team of that caliber that many times in a short amount of time, it's only to our advantage because . . . if you can take something from each game and build on the next game, I think that's good for us."

Forever young

The ageless Crawford gave a hint as to how much longer he might play in the NBA.

He was probably giving a loose estimate, but the 16-year veteran said he might not be able to appreciate passing Buck Williams for No. 90 on the league's all-time scoring list until "one day when I retire in 10 years."

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That would put Crawford, 35, in the territory of Nat Hickey, a coach from the Providence Steamrollers who activated himself for one game during the 1947-48 season when he was 45 years 363 days old, becoming the oldest player in NBA history.

Crawford looked like he was in his prime against the Nets on Monday, scoring 26 points to help carry the Clippers on a night when their offense was erratic for long stretches.

Etc.

The Clippers plan to re-sign forward Alex Stepheson to a second 10-day contract Wednesday. Stepheson has appeared in two games for a total of nine minutes, scoring two points, grabbing two rebounds and blocking a shot.

Up Next

CLIPPERS VS. OKLAHOMA CITY

When: Wednesday, 7:30.

Where: Staples Center.

On the air: TV: ESPN, Prime; Radio: 980, 1330.

Records: Thunder 42-18, Clippers 39-20.

Record vs. Thunder: 0-1.

Update: Oklahoma City has gone 2-4 over its last six games, losing two games from its advantage over the Clippers in the Western Conference standings. But the Thunder started a four-game trip Monday with a 131-116 victory over Sacramento in which Russell Westbrook logged 20 points, 15 assists and 13 rebounds for his ninth triple-double, second in the league. Clippers forward Blake Griffin is expected to attend the game after returning from a ceremony to retire his college jersey Tuesday night during Oklahoma's game against Baylor. Griffin told reporters at the ceremony he was "very close" to being able to play again.

Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter @latbbolch

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