Nick Gallo (okcthunder.com) previews tonight’s game in Portland: “After Friday night, the Thunder’s schedule doesn’t get any easier, but at the very least it’s longest extended stretch of time away from home this season mercifully comes to a close. The Portland Trail Blazers, a division rival whom the Thunder is seeing for the first time this season, will play host to the Thunder’s 12th game on the road in a 17-game span, with three of the Thunder’s five home games coming on the second night of a back to back. Over this current 34 day stretch, the Thunder has had eight nights total in Oklahoma City. Despite all of that travel and the road weariness that follows, the Thunder has won 10 of its 16 games thus far, good for a winning percentage of 62.5, which is the pace of a 51-win team over the course of the season. The reason has been the defense, which has buoyed an offense that has been inconsistent shooting the ball.”
Casey Holdahl (Blazers.com) previews the game from the other side: “The Trail Blazers have won six straight games against the Thunder, and eight straight against Oklahoma City at Moda Center. In four games against the Thunder last season, CJ McCollum averaged 27.8 points (53.8% FG, 45.2% 3-PT, 91.7% FT), 4.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists. McCollum has scored at least 21 points in each of his last five games against Oklahoma City. Damian Lillard averaged 26.7 points (38.2% FG, 20.0% 3-PT, 97.1% FT), 4.3 rebounds, 8.3 assists and 1.33 steals in three games against the Thunder last season. Lillard has scored 25-plus points in three of his last six games against the Thunder.”
Maddie Lee (Oklahoman) on the Thunder trying to break their Portland curse: “The last time the Thunder beat the Trail Blazers in Portland, Steven Adams and Andre Roberson were rookies. Scott Brooks still had another year to look forward to as head coach. OKC was en route to a trip to the Western Conference Finals. The last time the Thunder won in Portland was Feb. 11, 2014. On Friday, the team returns to the arena that has deprived them of a win for so long.”
The Starters discuss whether or not Paul George is carrying the Thunder:
Dan Devine (Ringer) on how triple-doubles can’t hide Russell Westbrook’s shooting struggles: “Westbrook is shooting just 31.8 percent on those stop-and-pop tries this season, according to Second Spectrum’s shot-charting data. Among players with at least 200 such attempts, only Hawks rookie Trae Young is connecting less frequently. Despite stronger-than-ever marks as a finisher at the rim, Westbrook’s touch beyond the paint has all but disappeared; whether off the bounce or off the catch, he’s taking nearly eight shots per game from 15 feet and beyond this season, but shooting just 25.9 percent on them. He’s battling at the free throw line, too, shooting just 62.6 percent. Perhaps Russ lost his stroke at the stripe due to the disruption of his longtime foul shot routine; ESPN’s Royce Young recently posited that Westbrook’s rhythm at the line has been off since last season, when the league implemented a rule change meant to prevent players from wasting time at the free throw line. Whatever the reason, he’s never shot this poorly on freebies, or earned them this infrequently.”
Berry Tramel (Oklahoman) on the Thunder being second in NBA point differential: “In the team statistics that matter most – points per possession – the Thunder ranks first defensively but just 21st offensively, out of the 30 NBA teams. The Thunder is allowing 99.6 points per 100 possessions. That leads the NBA by almost a full point – Indiana is second, at 100.5 Milwaukee is third at 102.2, Boston fourth at 102.6 and Memphis fifth at 103.7. Golden State is 12th at 106.1. Houston is 21st at 110.4. Of course, offensively, the Thunder lags, scoring 105.5 points per 100 possessions. Golden State leads at 112.1, followed by San Antonio 111.1, Milwaukee 110.7, Houston 110.4 and New Orleans 110.3. Put it all together, and the Thunder is second in the entire in NBA in the revered point differential – points scored vs. points allowed. The Bucks are dominating in that category, at +9.3, but the Thunder is second at 6.5.”
Zach Lowe (ESPN) has Steven Adams among the things he likes this week: “Adams is averaging career highs in points, rebounds, steals and assists. The Thunder fall apart on the glass when he sits. (Adams playing most of his minutes with Russell Westbrook — the league’s best rebounding guard — infects those splits, but Adams’ presence is the more important bellwether.) He’s turning the ball over and fouling at career-low rates. His floater is money. Adams is posting up more than twice as often as last season, but he has sacrificed nothing in efficiency; the Thunder have scored 1.12 points per possession anytime Adams shoots out of the post, or passes to someone who shoots right away — 20th among 119 guys who have recorded at least 20 post-ups, per Second Spectrum data. The Thunder ask a lot of Adams on defense — perhaps too much given his size and so-so athleticism. But he dutifully blitzes pick-and-rolls as the point man in Oklahoma City’s frantic, turnover-forcing assault. He never takes possessions off.”
Around the League: Harden and the Rockets took down the Warriors in OT…. Steph sounded off on the Dubs blowing a 20-point lead at home…. Kawhi was relentlessly booed as the Spurs blew out the Raptors in San Antonio…. DeMar DeRozan dropped his first career triple-double against his former team…. The Grizzlies traded for Chicago’s Justin Holiday…. Cam Payne was waived by the Bulls…. The first returns for All-Star voting are in.