Wizards

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Thunder-Clippers Preview

The Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers own the NBA's top two records, yet both are coming off losses.

One of them is about to have the makings of a losing streak.

Oklahoma City continues its season-high six-game road trip Tuesday night at Staples Center where the Clippers will try to avoid their second set of back-to-back losses this month.

The Thunder are a league-best 32-9 but its six-game win streak was snapped with a 121-118 overtime loss at Denver on Sunday. Kevin Durant scored 37, setting a personal best with four straight contests of 30 or more points, while Russell Westbrook had 36.

The Thunder, who trailed by 11 with three minutes left in regulation before coming back to force overtime, had been 20-5 when both scored at least 20.

Westbrook has been nearly as spectacular as Durant of late, averaging 33.8 points over his last four games. He had seven turnovers against the Nuggets after having only five in his previous three games, but still flirted with a triple-double, adding nine assists and eight rebounds. He was also crucial in forcing overtime, scoring seven points over the final three minutes of regulation, including the game-tying 3-pointer with 23 seconds left.

The point guard's 8.3 assists, 5.3 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game are all career-bests.

"He plays, he competes, he does everything that we ask," said coach Scott Brooks, who was coaching a day after his mother, Lee, died on Saturday. "He improves every year. He plays defense at a high level. He's a two-way player and I don't know if there's a better one in the league that can do both of them."

The Clippers (32-10) had a four-game winning streak stopped in a 106-99 loss at Golden State on Monday. Chris Paul - in his second game back after missing three with a knee injury - finished with a season-low four points on 1-of-7 shooting, though he also recorded nine assists. Coach Vinny Del Negro said Paul's status would be reevaluated for Tuesday's game.

"You could see he doesn't have that extra burst like he usually has," Del Negro said. "It's nice to have him out there because he settles everything down. It's just that he can't play at the level he's used to with the injury."

Jamal Crawford bounced back from a seven-point, 3-of-13 shooting performance in the previous game with 24 points, including a season-best six 3-pointers.

Los Angeles held a seven-point lead with 11 minutes left, but missed all four free throws in the fourth quarter. The Clippers also allowed Stephen Curry to go 4 of 4 from 3-point range in the final 12 minutes.

After Golden State connected on 12 of 22 from long range, the Clippers will need to tighten up defensively against the Thunder, who rank among the league leaders in 3-point percentage (38.8). They went 11 of 23 from beyond the arc in a 117-111 victory on Nov. 21 in the teams' first meeting this season.

Paul struggled in that loss, scoring nine on 2-of-14 shooting, though Blake Griffin had 23 points. Durant scored 35 in that game but missed 19 of 26 shots.

The Clippers have won four in a row at home against the Thunder.

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How the Wizards have taken Raptors big man Serge Ibaka out of the series on offense

How the Wizards have taken Raptors big man Serge Ibaka out of the series on offense

The Wizards-Raptors first round playoff series has evolved to feature the emergence of several players who started off slowly including Bradley Beal, Marcin Gortat and Kelly Oubre, Jr. The opposite has happened for Toronto big man Serge Ibaka.

After Ibaka lit up the Wizards for 23 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks in Game 1, there has been a disappearance. His scoring has gone missing and it's a big reason why the Wizards have won two straight games and earned a 2-2 series split.

Head coach Scott Brooks knows Ibaka well from their days in Oklahoma City. He helped develop Ibaka and has since watched from afar as his game has changed to include a consistent outside game.

Brooks has on several occasions referred to Ibaka as one of the best three-point shooting big men in the league. The numbers back that up. Last season, he shot 39.1 percent from three on 4.0 attempts per game, excellent for a 6-foot-10 power forward.

This season that number dipped to 36 percent, but he hit 41 percent of his threes in his final 16 games of the regular season. That carried over into the playoffs when he went 3-for-4 in Game 1 as part of an 8-for-11 shooting night overall.

The Wizards made a point to take away those outside shots following their series-opening defeat. The way they are doing that is by crowding him when he gets the ball, even if it means him getting past the initial defender.

"You want to make sure you meet him on the catch. You want to take away his shot," Brooks said. "When he gets open shots, they are money. He's going to knock them down... We did a good job of meeting him on his catch and making him put the ball on the floor with his left hand. You can live with the results."

After his 23-point outburst in Game 1, Ibaka has scored just 20 points total in the last three games. He has gone 2-for-6 from three.

The Wizards are taking away his shot attempts in general. He took 11 shots in each of the first two games of this series, but just four in Game 3 and five in Game 4. In Game 3 he had three points and three turnovers and on Sunday he had seven points and four turnovers.

Here are two examples of the Wizards' defense on Ibaka. On this first play, Markieff Morris meets Ibaka as soon as he catches the ball and the result is a turnover:

On this next play, Morris follows Ibaka all the way to the rim and even though he goes up on a pump fake, Morris recovers to alter Ibaka's shot and force a miss:

The Wizards, however, did get away with one against Ibaka. He was left wide open for a three in the final minute, but the shot rimmed out:

As the first two plays demonstrate, Morris deserves a lot of credit for the Wizards' success against Ibaka. He has the size and mobility to keep up with him and is willing to use contact to his advantage.

"Just playing the tendencies," Morris said. "We're making them do things they are uncomfortable with and are getting better results."

Ibaka was fourth on the Raptors this season in points per game and third in shot attempts. He is their third option behind All-Star guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. If the Wizards can continue to lock up Ibaka, it will be difficult for the Raptors to beat them.

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MORE FROM WIZARDS-RAPTORS SERIES:

OUBRE IS HELPING THE WIZARDS WIN IN MANY WAYS

WALL WAS DUNKING ALL OVER RAPTORS BIG MEN

MUST-SEE MOMENTS FROM GAME 4 WIN

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Wizards Tipoff podcast: Death Row D.C. and the Wizards are back

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Wizards Tipoff podcast: Death Row D.C. and the Wizards are back

On the latest episode of the Wizards Tipoff podcast presented by Greenberg and Bederman, Chase Hughes and Chris Miller were joined by Julie Donaldson to break down the Wizards' wins in Games 3 and 4.

Bradley Beal, Otto Porter and Marcin Gortat are back and the Wizards are a different team because of it. Plus, how regaining their Death Row D.C. mentality has changed this series.

You can listen to the episode right here:

You can download the podcast on Apple Podcasts right here and on Google Play. If you like the show please tell your friends!