In just a matter of hours, the Thunder will tip off Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Los Angeles Clippers; a team which finds itself in a unique situation.
To put it frankly, the Clippers aren't used to success.
This franchise started play 1970 as the Buffalo Braves and have never made it past the conference semifinals. In fact, since relocating from San Diego to Los Angeles prior to the 1984-85 season, the Clippers have only made it to the Western Conference semifinals twice, and won just three total semifinal games.
But these aren't your dad's Clippers.
Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and a roster full of role players and spark plugs have taken the next step under first-year coach Doc Rivers. They set a franchise record for wins this season (57) and survived a grueling first-round battle with the Golden State Warriors despite the mind-boggling Donald Sterling controversy.
This is a team with its eyes on the prize, just like Oklahoma City. The good news for Oklahoma City is that the Thunder appears ready for the challenge after a hard-fought first-round series against Memphis.
"Our backs were against the wall but we showed a lot of character," Kevin Durant said of the Thunder overcoming a 3-2 deficit to beat Memphis.
The Thunder turned up the heat in Games 6 and 7, beating the Grizzlies by a combined 31 points while looking like a rejuvenated ball club.
Durant credited the turnaround to jumping over a mental hurdle.
"I got out of my own way, I was thinking too much," Durant said of his early-series struggles. "I was worried too much about what you guys were saying. I realized that I started playing this game to have fun and I didn't want to take the pure fun out of the game."
Steven Adams brought an added element in the final two games, providing OKC with defense, shot blocking, and even agitating Zach Randolph into a 7th-game suspension. Adams agreed with Durant and explained that the Thunder appears to have found its groove again.
"Everyone's in a good mood right now, really on the same page," Adams said. "Really trying to come out tonight and go all out."
As far as the actual gameplay goes, Oklahoma City knows it's in for a challenge. Los Angeles will bring a much different attack than the Grizzlies.
"Of course the outside world knows this is a sexier matchup with the Chris Pauls and the Blake Griffins and the dunks and all that type of stuff," Durant said.
Specifically, OKC will need to focus in on two areas:
1: Limit the pick-and roll game with Chris Paul.
2: Crash the boards and limit second chances.
In order to help stop Paul's deadly pick-and-roll attack, Thunder coach Scott Brooks may choose to bring Thabo Sefolosha back into the rotation. Sefolosha has a successful history of defending the pick-and-roll, specifically against Paul.
"We've got to play the pick-and-roll the right way, limit the roll to the basket, the dunks, the things that gets them going," Sefolosha explained. "And at the same time stop the 3-point shooters. They've got a lot of guys that can do damage behind the line and kinda drive the ball. So it's gonna be a complete effort for 48 minutes sticking to our game plan and helping one another."
Adams elaborated on the Thunder's defensive game plan, explaining why stopping the Clippers starts with the bigs.
"They've got really athletic bigs that are really fast and they push the ball well, too," Adams explained. "They've got Blake Griffin who just rebounds and pushes it up himself, so, we just gotta be really prepared. Guys gotta get back, too. Their whole team just sprints the floor really well, so we just gotta be locked on in transition and rebound, main thing is boxing out. DeAndre Jordan's athletic, all of their bigs go to the boards really well."
If both teams play to their potential, we could be in for a seven-game classic. But as Durant knows, the Clippers are just the next leg in the Thunder's journey toward a title.
"I just look at it as another opportunity to try to fight toward what we want to get, what we dream about as kids, a championship," Durant said. "And that's a team that's trying to stop us from it."
Tip time from Chesapeake Arena is set for 8:30 p.m. CT. Find all the postgame coverage on Monday night and Tuesday morning on news9.com/sports.