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It’s been a long time since Eric Bledsoe has come off the bench regularly.

Before coming off the bench for the Los Angeles Clippers, Bledsoe had started 561 of his previous 565 games, both regular-season and playoffs, over the last seven-plus seasons.

But heading into Saturday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Oklahoma City, Bledsoe has given the Clippers a stabilizing influence coming off the bench as the primary ballhandler when starting point guard Reggie Jackson isn’t on the floor.

“I’ve just got games to win,” Bledsoe said. “No matter what position I’m playing, no matter what, I’ve just got to go out there and play as hard as I can to help this team come out with the win.”

Bledsoe is coming off a 21-point, 8-assist, 1-turnover performance in Wednesday’s 124-103 loss at Utah.

Since coming off the bench for the first time this season in a win over the Lakers on Dec. 3, Bledsoe has 33 assists and just nine turnovers and the Clippers are 5-2.

“I just really thought his pace was good,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said of Bledsoe after the loss to the Jazz. “His pace has been really good for us all season but tonight he found an extra gear.”

After playing 19 of their first 28 at home, the Clippers began in Utah a stretch in which they’ll play 20 of 30 on the road.

Saturday’s game will wrap a four-game homestand for the Thunder, who are looking to avoid going winless in the stretch.

Oklahoma City has lost three in a row and 13 of 16, including a 113-110 loss to New Orleans on Wednesday when the Pelicans’ Devonte’ Graham hit a shot from three-quarters court at the buzzer to stun the Thunder, just moments after Shai Gilgeous-Alexander tied it with a 3-pointer of his own with less than two seconds remaining.

Thunder coach Mark Daigneault compared the emotions of not only that loss but the Thunder’s recent struggles to how families grow, saying that both positive moments and struggles have brought the team together.

“One of the foundational things we talk about is growing through experience,” Daigneault said.

Over the last five games since he missed Oklahoma City’s historic 73-point loss to Memphis on Dec. 2, Gilgeous-Alexander has averaged 23.6 points and 6.4 assists and is 8 of 24 (33.3%) from beyond the arc.

Both teams could get some additional help back for Saturday’s game.

For the Clippers, Paul George is closing in on a return after missing the last four games with a bruised right elbow. The Clippers’ leading scorer is averaging 25 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.9 steals, his most in each category since joining the team after being traded from Oklahoma City in the 2019 offseason.

The Thunder’s Luguentz Dort is likely to play against the Clippers after missing Wednesday’s game with a left ankle sprain.

Saturday’s game is the second of three meetings between the teams. The Clippers won the first, 99-94, on Nov. 1 in Los Angeles.

-Field Level Media