Thunder vs. Clippers: LA's Bench the Difference in Western Conference Showdown

Marques EversollAnalyst IJanuary 22, 2013

Jamal Crawford could be the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year once again.
Jamal Crawford could be the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year once again.Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Tuesday night's slate of games features a Western Conference showdown between the Los Angeles Clippers and the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Oklahoma City carries the best record in basketball at 32-9, while the Clippers are just a half-game behind at 32-10. Los Angeles will play host on Tuesday night, as one team looks to make a midseason statement to the rest of the league.

Both teams are led by legitimate superstars. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combine to make the Thunder perhaps the most explosive team in basketball, while Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are a two-headed highlight reel for the Clippers.

But when the two teams square off, it likely won't be about the stars. It will come down to the bench—and that's where the Clippers have the edge.

Jamal Crawford is a front-runner for the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year, giving the Clippers a versatile scoring threat off the bench. As a pure one-on-one scorer, Crawford is among the best in the league.

He averages 16.7 points per game but plays just 29.2 minutes per night. Over the course of 48 minutes, his scoring average bumps up to 27.4. But with the talent-heavy Clippers, Crawford doesn't need to score that much. He's a role player on one of the NBA's best teams.

The Thunder get a similar boost off the bench from guard Kevin Martin. After being acquired from the Houston Rockets in the James Harden trade, Martin brings to the Thunder a lot of what Harden brought to the team last year.

Both teams have starting-caliber shooting guards coming off their bench. But after that, the Clippers have the deeper team and a much deeper backcourt.

Matt Barnes gives the Clippers a long and athletic wing player off the bench. He averages 11 points per game and is capable of guarding a variety of different players on the defensive end.

Another player off the Clippers' bench, Eric Bledsoe, may be one of the most improved players in the league. Since coming into the league from Kentucky in 2010, Bledsoe has steadily improved with the Clippers.

Perhaps the presence of CP3 has rubbed off on Bledsoe, as he's averaging career-highs in points, steals, three-point and field-goal percentage. He could start for a number of NBA teams, but to the Clippers, he's yet another asset on perhaps the deepest bench in basketball.

Grant Hill and Lamar Odom are by no means the players they once were, but each player gives the Clippers something every team desires: a veteran presence off the bench. Hill, 40, has appeared in just five games this season, but head coach Vinny del Negro certainly trusts him on the court.

Whenever a guy like Kevin Durant is on one sideline, the opponent must give a full-team effort to prevent him from taking the game over, as well as scoring enough points to keep pace.

And the Los Angeles Clippers are as deep as any team in the league.