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Friday Bolts: 4.12.19

Joe Freeman (The Oregonian) on the Blazers getting a rematch with OKC after getting swept in the regular season: “I don’t think we dislike them,” Lillard said Wednesday night. “I can’t speak for them. But once you step on the court, we fought to get to the postseason and now somebody’s got to go. Obviously, there ain’t going to be no buddy-buddy stuff. I think that’s obvious. Something is on the line. Top point guard against a top point guard. Top team in the West against another top team in the West. It’s always something on the line. But I don’t think there’s any dislike.” But to anyone who watched a series that featured plenty of fireworks, the visual evidence suggests otherwise. One game included a smattering of trash talk between Lillard and Westbrook. Another featured altercations between Nurkic and Westbrook and Nurkic and George. When the dust settled on that one, Nurkic had earned an ejection, Westbrook had drawn a Flagrant 1 foul and George had been issued a technical, the result of a series of incidents that featured everything from elbows to the face, hockey-style body checks and trips. At one point in that heated Moda Center matchup, Westbrook stood near the Thunder bench and repeatedly raised his pointer finger to his lips to shush nearby fans. By the end of the night, the sellout crowd was booing Westbrook every time he touched the ball.”

Jared Wright (SeattlePi) previews Thunder/Blazers as a series of mind games: “There are positives and negatives to the situation the Blazers are in, just like in almost any situation in life. It helps that the Blazers are on the opposite side of the bracket from the Golden State Warriors, for once; if Portland is fortunate enough to get past the Thunder, they’ll face either the inexperienced Denver Nuggets or the aging San Antonio Spurs instead of the greatest team of our generation. Another plus is the Thunder’s relative weakness. OKC closed out the season with a few whimpers and winces, as Paul George’s mysterious shoulder issues affected his shooting. As I said earlier in the week, as George goes, so do the Thunder. If he can’t score enough to supplement the stellar OKC defense and Westbrook’s all-around game, the team has a really tough road to victory. There’s no getting around the fact that this is still a pretty rough draw for Portland. Oklahoma City swept the season series from the Blazers, and while the games were for the most part close to the end, the Thunder were able to squeeze out enough offense to win—and squeeze Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum into rough shooting nights.”

The Thunder are the only lower seed favored to win their first round matchup:

FiveThirtyEight on the Thundre’s chances to advance: “Hey kudos to Oklahoma City for avoiding Golden State AND Denver AND Houston. Actually, OKC vs. Portland is the only series in the entire playoffs where the lower seed is favored according to our model. We give the Thunder a 78 percent chance of advancing.”

Zach Buckley (B/R) picked the Thunder to make a run to the Western Conference Finals: “But even when OKC was rolling, the prospect of eliminating Golden State was still a pipe dream. Plus, the Thunder haven’t done much rolling of late. They went 12-13 with a minus-0.6 net rating after the All-Star break. Their defense has grown problematically generous, and this offense has always had issues with shooting (22nd in three-point percentage) and Westbrook’s giveaways (second in turnovers). The math just doesn’t work for an upset. Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant are a souped-up version of Westbrook and George, a full-strength DeMarcus Cousins trumps a full-strength Steven Adams and OKC has no matches for Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. It’s too much Warriors, as per usual. Prediction: Warriors in five.”

The NewsOK team with a Thunder/Blazers roundtable: “Can OKC’s find consistency? Maybe Playoff P will shrug off his shoulder issues and shoot like he did in December, January and February. It’s more likely, however, that he’ll continue to shoot at a 40 percent clip, as he’s done since the All-Star break. In that case, the Thunder needs the other players around Paul George and Westbrook to shoot well. During the Thunder’s winning streak, Westbrook is averaging 15.6 assists per game. That kind of attack is much harder to stop than Westbrook, or even George, playing isolation ball.”

Bill Haisten (Tulsa World) on the Thunder’s bad habits potentially leading to a tough series vs Portland: “Two periods symbolize the feast-or-famine nature of 2018-19. From Jan. 19 (when OKC recorded a fantastic road win over Philadelphia) until Feb. 11, the Thunder prevailed in 11 of 12 games. On Feb. 11, the Thunder’s record was 37-19. There were realistic possibilities of a 54-win finish and the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference postseason. From Feb. 14 through March 31, the Thunder was 6-14. There were losses to New Orleans, Minnesota, Sacramento, Miami, Memphis and Dallas — none of which qualified for the playoffs. If Oklahoma City had gotten victories in four of those six games, there would have been a 53-29 regular-season record. The Thunder would have secured the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference playoffs. There would have been homecourt advantage in the first round, with the first two game played at OKC’s Chesapeake Energy Arena. Instead, there was a 49-33 record, resulting in the No. 6 seed and a first-round clash with the third-seeded Portland Trail Blazers.”

Berry Tramel (Oklahoman) on the pressure being on Billy Donovan, Russell Westbrook, and Paul George: “Paul George’s corner 3-pointer with 1.8 seconds left Tuesday night not only beat the Rockets. That game-winning shot changed the playoff path for the entire Western Conference. The Warriors and Rockets on one side of the bracket. The Thunder, TrailBlazers, Nuggets and Spurs on the other side of the bracket. The Thunder went from a likely date with Golden State in the first round to a series with wounded Portland. From Doomsday to Doable. Of course, PG’s game-winner didn’t cast in stone the West playoff pairings. A Thunder victory in Milwaukee on Wednesday night and wins by Portland and Denver were necessary, too. The Thunder won, and the Blazers and Nuggets staged remarkable comebacks to do their part. But to whom much is given, much is required. The pressure is on the Thunder in the series that starts Sunday on the Oregon Trail.”

Around the League: Dave Joerger is out in Sacramento after their best season in a decade…. JB Bickerstaff is out in Memphis…. Larry Drew will not be back as the Cavs’ coach…. Is Giannis the best basketball player alive?…. The anxious undercurrent of these playoffs…. The best shooters from before the 3-point revolution…. Ranking the postseason teams…. The NBA had more sellouts this season than ever before…. The regular season in nine charts.