Originally posted on Fox Sports Southwest
By ANDREW GILMAN  |  Last updated 11/12/13
Back-to-back games against playoff teams starting Wednesday. Now we get an early indicator of how good this Thunder team is. This two-game trip is a bit different than the season-opening games at Utah and at Minnesota. These teams coming up are legit. At Clippers on Wednesday. At Golden State on Thursday. "Every game is big," Kevin Durant said. Maybe, but these seem a bit bigger than any the Thunder have played so far. And unlike that previous trip, the Thunder are playing a lot better and now they have Russell Westbrook healthy. Here are a few things to think about as the Thunder play a playoff team from a season ago for the first time this season. 1. Chris Paul vs. the Thunder and Russell Westbrook A season ago, in the first meeting between the Clippers and the Thunder, Chris Paul had one of his worst days as a pro. He went 2-of-14 from the field and turned it over four times in the loss to the Thunder. OKC went on to win all four games between the teams last season. Count on Paul being a bit more consistent this time. Count on a big-time matchup with Russell Westbrook, too. Westbrook is not showing any effects from his knee injury that knocked him out of the playoffs a season ago, other than not playing a lot of minutes. He has averaged 31.5 minutes in four games so far this year. His career average is about 3 minutes more than that. As much as Paul wants to figure out the Thunder, Westbrook is coming off his worst game of the season. He was just 4-of-16 from the field and was ejected with less than 4 minutes to play. The Thunder went on to a 16-4 run in regulation and rallied past the Wizards for an overtime victory. 2. The ascension of Serge Ibaka Ibaka started the season 7-of-28 shooting. In the past three games, Ibaka has shot 64.9 percent from the field, averaged 17.7 points, 11.3 rebounds and three blocks. He might have played one of the best games of his career against Washington going for 25 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks. Perhaps it has something to do with the return of Westbrook to the lineup, but Ibaka has been noticeably more comfortable and more confident. 3. 6th Man watch We're still a ways off from seeing the Thunder need to shorten its rotation that usually happens deep into the second half of the season however, we're not too far off from seeing the need for some consistency. There are number of candidates, including Jeremy Lamb, who has played better in the last week, as well as Reggie Jackson, who is the best get-to-the-basket scorer the Thunder has off the bench. I like Jackson best in this role. He's quick and plays the same style as Westbrook does. He was also really good on Sunday going for 12 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two steals. Jackson was also dealing with a hip contusion. Rookie Steven Adams was first off the bench in the first quarter and first off the bench in the second half against Washington. Nick Collison has been the first off the bench the past three games, but he missed Sunday's game against Washington with a hip contusion. Follow Andrew Gilman on Twitter: @andrewgilmanOK
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