Two of the NBA's best hook up Sunday afternoon at the Staples Center when the Los Angeles Clippers welcome the Oklahoma City Thunder.
These teams lead their respective divisions by many games and the Thunder have the league's third-best record while the Clippers own the fourth-best. The Clips are only a half-game behind the Thunder for the second-best record in the Western Conference behind the San Antonio Spurs.
The Clippers are the hotter of the two teams heading into Sunday's crucial matchup. They've won four in a row and eight of their last nine with the only blip on the radar coming in an embarrassing home loss to those Spurs.
They just swept a mini, two-game road trip, beating the very tough Indiana Pacers and Cleveland Cavaliers.
Against the Cavs, the Clippers took a nine-point lead into the fourth quarter and hammered the home team by nine in the final frame to win, 105-89. Chris Paul scored 11 points, but handed 15 assists after a night when he took over the fourth quarter to beat the Pacers.
"Tonight, we really got the shots we wanted," said Paul, who had his No. 3 jersey retired at his alma mater, Wake Forrest on Saturday. "Much like Indiana, we missed a lot of easy shots. Hopefully, we get back home on Sunday, we start knocking those down."
Six Clippers scored in double figures against Cleveland and the game-high scorer was Jamal Crawford. L.A.'s always stout bench contributed 50 points, including 10 from Lamar Odom.
The Thunder had a three-game winning streak halted Friday night in Denver. The Nuggets pulled out a 105-103 victory. Ty Lawson of the Nuggets made a buzzer- beating jumper for the victory.
The Thunder trailed by 10 at the start of the final quarter, but tied things up late. Russell Westbrook scored a game-high 38 points, Kevin Durant added 25 points and 14 rebounds and Serge Ibaka chipped in 17.
"Knowing the team like I know it, we're not going to give up," head coach Scott Brooks said. "We always seem to somehow, someway, fight back and give ourselves a chance to win. We did that tonight. They played a little bit better. They made one more play than us. That's just the way it is. We have to figure it out going into the next game and play a little bit better."
Friday was not a good night for the Thunder's bench. They were outscored by Denver's second unit, 71-11. The Nuggets' reserves are third in the NBA in scoring and the Clippers share the lead with the Dallas Mavericks. OKC is 22nd, so they may seem a similar, but not quite so large disparity on Sunday.
The Thunder have both of this season's contests.
First, they toppled the Clippers, 117-111 in overtime on Nov. 21 in Oklahoma City. The Thunder then knocked off the Clips in their own building by 12 on Jan. 22.
The Thunder's victory in L.A. over the Clippers this season halted a four-game road losing streak in this series.