Thunder (54-24, 23-15 road) vs. Trailblazers (42-37, 26-12 home)
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 1300 AM The Buzz Tulsa)
Time: 9:00 PM CST
Team Comparisons (per NBA.com/Stats)
- Offensive Rating: Thunder – 110.1 (2nd), Trailblazers – 106.0 (7th)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 102.9 (12th), Trailblazers – 105.5 (20th)
If the Oklahoma City Thunder can somehow change the density of the air at the Chesapeake Energy Arena to match that of Denver’s, they could probably be on par with the Golden State Warriors. (Are we still comparing teams to Golden State for the purpose of greatness? I mean, you know, after their home loss to the Minnesota TimberPups.) That’s possibly one of the reasons for the 3-point barrage that was the 15-33 showing in Denver.
Dion Waiters and Anthony Morrow looked they should have been competing on All-Star Saturday, while Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka all took efficient, “in rhythm” 3’s. And the beautiful part was that the Thunder looked like they were holding back. The vision head coach Billy Donovan had for the offense at the beginning of the season (more 3’s, more looks at the rim) was on full display last night. The team had 34 FG attempts at the rim and 33 FG attempts from deep. For comparative purposes, the Warriors average 31.5 attempts from deep and 30.4 attempts at the rim per game. That’s pretty good balance right there.
With the win last night, the Thunder clinched the 3rd seed for the playoffs in the West. What they do from here on out is a bit of a mystery. They should be resting players as they have nothing left to play for in the regular season. But the Thunder aren’t known for resting players, and have said over and over they want to go into the playoffs in a rhythm, which could be disrupted by resting players. No one on the Thunder played more than 30 minutes last night, so that may factor into whether the Thunder roll into Portland with their full team intact.
This is the fourth and final meeting of the season between the Thunder and Trailblazers. The Thunder lead the season series 2-1. They’ve won both games in Oklahoma City in blowout fashion. The one game in Portland looked like it was going to be a solid Thunder victory, until Damian Lillard decided to go napalm in the last three minutes of the game, and scorched the Thunder to the tune of 5 three pointers during that time span.
The Trailblazers come into the game with a 42-37 record, having won 4 of their last 5 games. They are currently slotted to play the Thunder in the first round, but are just a 1/2 game back of the floundering Grizzlies for 5th in the conference. They feature one of the best offensive backcourts in the league. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are both 20+ point scorers and good playmakers (4+ assists per game for both). Defensively, they struggle, but that’s where the supporting role players come into play.
Al Farouq Aminu, Allen Crabbe, and Gerald Henderson are all capable wing defenders with the capability of hitting 3’s on a consistent basis. Maurice Harkless is also a big wing defender, but struggles with scoring from the perimeter. He’s more of a 3/4 hybrid, but his slight frame relegates him more to the perimeter. The Trailblazers are one of the best perimeter defending teams in the league, but that’s more out of necessity because they are so poor defensively on the interior.
Up front, Mason Plumlee and Ed Davis are both solid on the boards, but struggle at protecting the rim. Meyers Leonard gives the Trailblazers a different look as a perimeter shooting big. When he is in the game, Lillard and McCollum become dribble-drive facilitators as Leonard spends most of his time on the perimeter. Noah Vonleh continues to struggle with finding a niche in the NBA. The former lottery pick is only averaging 3.7 points and 3.9 rebounds in 15 minutes per game.
3 Big Things1. Perimeter Defense
The Trailblazers are 3rd in the league at 3-point efficiency, shooting 37% from deep as a team. They feature 6 rotation players that shoot 36% or more from 3-point territory. Defending the 3-point line will go a long way to helping the Thunder win the game.2. Rebounding
The Trailblazers are top-5 in the league in most rebounding categories. Their bigs are consistent on the boards, and their perimeter players sink in to help out. Where they really get you is on the offensive glass, where they average 11.6 per game, and can catch a defense in flux as they find an open shooter on the perimeter.3. Bench Play
Which bench will we see tonight? The one that scored 58 points last night or the one that struggled the game before against the Rockets? That has been one of the most pressing questions for the Thunder all season. Portland’s bench may not be one of the most consistent in the league, but they are solid.
CJ McCollum – McCollum is 13-22 in his last 3 games from deep. He was 6-6 against Miami four days ago. Streaks like that usually continue for a week or so for shooters. Against the Thunder’s sometimes questionable perimeter defense, McCollum could have himself a whale of a game.