What to watch: Clippers-Thunder

April, 16, 2012
4/16/12
1:09
PM PT
Clippers (37-23) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (44-16) at Staples Center, 7:30 p.m. PT

Five storylines to track:

1. Casa Del Negro: Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro has helped turn around the season and likely saved his job in the process by winning 11 of 13 games and staying within striking distance of the Lakers for potentially their first division title in franchise history. If nothing else, the Clippers are now just one win away from clinching their first playoff berth in six years. The ordeal last month didn’t rattle Del Negro, who said he simply went about his job in improving the team and getting through a rough stretch of playing 20 games in 31 days in March. “I didn't miss a blink. I kept on my path,” Del Negro told ESPNLA.com’s Ramona Shelburne. “What has to be done has to be done. I'm Italian. Are you kidding me?”

2. Learning to win: For the first time in their young careers, key players on the Clippers like Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Randy Foye and Eric Bledsoe are involved in a playoff run to end the season and playing meaningful games in April. None of these big games late in the season against Oklahoma City and Memphis can truly duplicate what a seven-game series will be like, but they are giving these young players who are still learning how to win a taste of what they can expect next month. “We’re learning how to win,” Del Negro said. “Knowing how to win in this league is hard. It’s easy to play in this league but it’s hard to win. We’re learning as a group what it takes to win and it takes time. Sometimes you get some bumps in the road but we’re trying to move this thing in the right direction.”

3. The L.A. 500: The Clippers are now 14 games over .500 (37-23) this season. It's only the third time that the Clippers have been more than five games over .500 this many games into a season since moving to Los Angeles in 1984. They finished the season eight games over .500 in 1991-92 and 12 games over .500 in 2005-06. Those are the only two seasons in which the Clippers finished over .500 since moving to L.A. The Clippers surpassed their victory total from last season on April 5, and their 37 wins are the most for the club since winning 40 in 2006-07. The Clippers' 37-23 record this season after 60 games is the second-best in franchise history, trailing the 1974-75 Buffalo Braves who were 38-22 after 60 games.

4. Tough end: After Monday night’s game against the Thunder, the Clippers will play four of their last five games on the road with the road games coming on two back-to-backs. The Clippers have actually been a good road team this season, going 15-14 (.517). The Clippers are attempting to finish the season with a .500 or better road record for the first time since 1984. The most road wins for the Los Angeles Clippers was 20 when they went 20-21 during the 2005-06 season. Because of the lockout-shortened season, the Clippers will not be able to hit that mark with only four road games left.

5. CP3 closes out: In his first season with the Clippers, Chris Paul has single-handedly rewritten the team’s record books and changed the culture of the franchise. Paul totaled 28 points and 13 assists in the Clippers’ win over the Warriors on Saturday. It was just the third time in the last 25 seasons that a Clipper totaled 28 points and 13 assists in a single game. The last to do so was Andre Miller on Nov. 28, 2002. Paul hit those marks 14 times during his six-year career with the New Orleans Hornets. Paul is the only player in franchise history with at least 28 points, 13 assists and 3 steals in a single game. It is the ninth time Paul has done it in his career.

Arash Markazi

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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