It's slim pickings on Thursday, but a TNT doubleheader will feature two enthralling NBA matchups. Starting the evening, the Los Angeles Clippers visit the Oklahoma City Thunder in the teams' second meeting of the season. That will be followed by a battle of two distinct identities as the Nuggets will aim to speed up the streaking Chicago Bulls.
The main course: Clippers vs. Thunder
8 p.m. ET, TNT
The Los Angeles Clippers are off to a fine start while learning coach Doc Rivers' ways, but on Thursday they face a tough road test against the Oklahoma City Thunder, a team they defeated 111-103 just more than a week ago. Reason to watch: These two teams probably don't like one another. Evidence, here.
Can the Clippers control the boards? The Clippers put all five starters in double figures in their first game against the Thunder, plus got an additional 20 points from Jamal Crawford off the bench. Of course, Oklahoma City can get some big games from Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook -- something likely against a Los Angeles team not defending all that well early on. But will Serge Ibaka alone be able to keep second-chance points from the duo of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan?
Can OKC corral Crawford? Coincidentally or not, Jamal Crawford is a decent gauge of whether the Clippers win. He is a 17.4-point-per-game scorer who is shooting 53.7 percent in eight wins this season. In four losses, Crawford is shooting 39.6 percent and scoring 12.8 points per game. Coincidence? Maybe. But take away his output, and the Los Angeles bench isn't much of a scoring unit.
Do the Thunder continue with offensive balance? This isn't balance in terms of who scores, but rather how the points are scored. In a 115-113 victory against Denver on Monday, Oklahoma City had 24 assists to just 12 turnovers, and though the Thunder shot just 41 percent overall, they hit 13-of-27 threes and got to the foul stripe 32 times. That type of balance is hard to beat. Now if Scott Brooks' team can play some defense against the Clippers ...
Reading material: Welcome to Loud City breaks down how the Thunder used ICE pick-and-roll defense to hem in the Nuggets, which could be important against Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. Clips Nation previews the game starting with a big-picture approach.
The dessert: Bulls vs. Nuggets
10:30 p.m. ET, TNT
Quietly, the Chicago Bulls are one of the hottest teams in the league, having won five straight. Four of those games came in dominating fashion, and one victory was a takedown of the then-undefeated Indiana Pacers. Meanwhile, Denver is trying to run past people, which has ended with some wins but hasn't included much defense.
Do Derrick Rose and the Bulls continue to smother opposing point guards? How do the Bulls bother offenses? It all starts from the point of attack. During the five-game winning streak, the Bulls and Derrick Rose have held the two leading point guards -- those are designated by most minutes played -- to a combined 21-of-93 shooting. That's a ridiculous 22.5 percent shooting from the field. Thursday, Chicago will need to continue that trend against Ty Lawson, who is averaging 22 points and 8.6 assists per game while shooting 45 percent on the season. His backup, Nate Robinson, also might want to take it to his former team like this:
Who wins the battle of pace? The Bulls would prefer not to run, especially considering Tom Thibodeau tends to play his short rotation of players more minutes than most. Denver is fourth in the NBA in pace, according to Basketball-Reference, and is averaging 109 points per game in the last seven games -- it took the Nuggets three games to get in a groove, apparently. The game being a mile high in Denver would seemingly make it a point for Chicago to avoid falling into the fast-breaking trap.