Thunder (15-9, 5-4 road) vs. Trailblazers (12-14, 7-4 home)
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 930 AM (Spanish))
Time: 9: 30 PM CST
Team Comparisons (per NBA.com/Stats)
- Offensive Rating: Thunder – 102.9 (18th), Trailblazers – 107.7 (8th)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 101.5 (6th), Trailblazers – 109.9 (30th)
The road ahead for the Oklahoma City Thunder is, literally, mostly on the road. Eighteen of their next 25 games are away from the friendly confines of the Chesapeake Energy Arena. Within all those road games, there is a 6-game, 13-day road trip and a 3-game road trip featuring a Charlotte/Houston back to back (time-zone hopping). This is the type of game where, if the Thunder actually subscribe to the idea, they may actually schedule a loss and sit some of their players. It is during this stretch that the 6-game cushion they built during their first 24 games to stay above .500 will go a long way to preserving their playoff chances into February and beyond.
The NBA schedule is designed to even itself out. Start the season with a lot of home games, and you will eventually have to pay the piper down the road. Start the season on some heavy road trips and, eventually, the schedule will become very favorable down the stretch. It’s the song and dance that every NBA team has to go through every season. Cheri Mah, a sleep consultant to many NBA teams and creator of the Mah Score, a comprehensive data table showing the trouble spots for teams based on travel and frequency of games, ranks this current back to back as the toughest stretch for Oklahoma City this season. Over the course of four days, the Thunder play in 3 different time zones. On Sunday, the Thunder played in Oklahoma City (Central Time Zone) against Boston. Then they hopped on a plane on Monday and traveled to Portland which is in the Pacific Time Zone. After the game tonight, they hop onto another plane and head to Salt Lake City, which is in the Mountain Time Zone, for the 2nd half of a back to back. Needless to say, by the time the Utah game rolls around tomorrow, the team may be a bit sluggish from the outset.
Season Series Preview
This is the first of four match-ups between the Northwest division rivals. The two teams split their season series last year with each game being won by the home team.
The Portland Trailblazers come into this game with a 12-14 record, having lost their last 4 games. The Trailblazers have been inconsistent throughout the season usually book-ending 2-3 game win streaks with multiple game losing streaks. A lot of their issues lie on the defensive side of the ball. They rank 30th in defensive rating and feature two defensive sieves in the backcourt with no true rim protector behind them.
Outside of the addition of Evan Turner, this team is basically the same as last season’s. The major difference being that four of those players signed max or near max contract extensions this offseason. And that’s not including Damian Lillard who signed a max contract the year before and Turner who signed a sizable contract this offseason. A lot of the financial flexibility the Trailblazers had last season is gone and the pieces on the team just aren’t that good to speak of. Without major improvements from multiple players or a blockbuster deal, the fear in Portland is that this team reached it’s ceiling last season and the only place to go from here is down.
- Cameron Payne (foot)
- Victor Oladipo (wrist)
3 Big Things1. Steven Adams and Enes Kanter
This is the type of game where these two guys should dominate. Russell Westbrook should be able to get past any of the backcourt defenders the Trailblazers have. And once he’s past them, then the Portland bigs have to commit. Ed Davis and Mason Plumlee usually get eaten up by the Thunder’s duo and that should not be any different tonight.2. Perimeter defense
With Victor Oladipo out with a wrist injury, it’ll be interesting to see in which direction the Thunder go as far as starting line-up. Last season, when Kevin Durant was out, they would start Anthony Morrow at the 2 and move Andre Roberson up to the 3. I could see the Thunder going in this same direction, but with Roberson guarding CJ McCollum and Morrow guarding Maurice Harkless.
Another thing to look out for is the fact Portland usually starts small with Al-Farouq Aminu at the PF spot. If Domantas Sabonis struggles in keeping up with Aminu, Jerami Grant may get a lot of playing time tonight.
The Blazers offense is a lot like Houston’s offense, in principle, but Portland’s personnel is less efficient. It will be very important that Westbrook stay with Lillard in order to allow the other defenders to stay at home with whoever they are guarding.3. Slowing the pace
I’m usually an advocate for this team playing as fast as possible. But if they get into a track meet with Portland, especially with Oladipo being out, they could run out of offensive options to keep up with the Trailblazers. If the Thunder can muddle the game up a bit and use their bigs in the half-court, then they may be able to stymie the Blazers’ pace of play and prevent them from getting the number of offensive opportunities they usually get in a game.