Trailblazers (35-32, 14-20 road) vs. Thunder (44-22, 26-9 home)
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 1300 AM The Buzz Tulsa)
Time: 7:00 PM CST
Team Comparisons (per NBA.com/Stats)
- Offensive Rating: Thunder – 109.2 (2nd), Trailblazers – 105.8 (7th)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 102.9 (13th), Trailblazers – 104.9 (20th)
Well this has been a crappy couple of days for everything Thunder-related. First the inexplicable loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves, in which the Thunder came into the game half asleep and didn’t start to wake up until the young T-Wolves team had enough momentum and resolve built up on their side to overcome any deficit the Thunder placed them in. Then the Thunder flew down to San Antonio, played a great game for three quarters, and then decided to crap the bed in the fourth quarter (where have you heard that story before???).
I have no idea what voodoo was placed on the Thunder during the All-Star break, but I am not liking where this Thunder team is currently. They seem very shaky mentally and have lost that swagger they used to carry into close games. It used to be, “Just get Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook within striking distance in the closing moments of the fourth, and we should be okay”. Now, its, “Oh, we have a 10 point lead heading into the 4th quarter. Great. The other team has us right where they want us.”
The thing is, the Thunder seem to be on the precipice of doing great things. But then they do some bone-headed mistakes at critical times that completely crush not just the momentum of that game, but also the confidence for other games. The problem is a lot of their bone-headed mistakes are coming from their two superstars. The turnover and foul at the end of the Golden State home game was all on Durant. The three that got the Spurs all the momentum they needed in the fourth quarter was all on Westbrook after he made a dumb steal attempt.
But here’s what I’m getting tired of: After every one of those games, when the cameras are rolling, each of those players will say the right things. “Yeah, that’s on me. It was my fault.” or “Put that one on me.” I mean, it seems like they’ve read and memorized the Sam Presti Guide for Speaking to the Media. But then the next game happens, and it’s more of the same. At some point, the coach has to step in and make these players accountable. If not the coach, then why did the team bring Nazr Mohammed in? I’m usually a sunshine pumper, but damn it’s getting hard nowadays.
This is the third of four meetings between the Thunder and Trailblazers. The two teams have split their first two meetings, with each team winning on their home floor. The Thunder won the first meeting easily 106-90. In the second meeting, the Thunder had an 8 point lead with 3:19 left in the game. What happened from there was a barrage of three pointers from Damian Lillard (and one from Allen Crabbe) that turned an 8 point deficit into a 5 point victory.
The Trailblazers come into the game with a 35-32 record, good for 6th in the West. Coming into the season, many thought Portland would be one of the bottom-dwellers in the West. They had lost 4/5th of their starting line-up and were bringing in what amounted to a brand new team. Instead, what head coach Terry St0tts has done is what any good coach would have done. He played to his strengths, which on this team were perimeter shooting and perimeter defense. He’s turned Portland into a pace and space offense, while taking advantage of an opportunistic defense.
The motors that get the Portland engine revving are Lillard and CJ McCollum. Both are combo guards that can handle the ball, playmake, and shoot it from nearly anywhere on the court. Their only Achilles heel is on defense, but, offensively, they are on par with the Curry/Thompson backcourt. Allen Crabbe and Al-Farouq Aminu provide the wing defense that is lacking from the starting backcourt. Both are capable 3-and-D wings. Up front, Mason Plumlee and Ed Davis give the Blazers their only traditional bigs. Meyers Leonard and Noah Vonleh are more perimeter-oriented bigs that are soft on the boards, but can space the floor.
3 Big Things1. Perimeter Defense
Portland’s offense is made by the threat of their perimeter shooting. Lillard, McCollum, Crabbe, and Leonard are all above average to great shooters from the 3-point line. Limiting their opportunities will be important to handling their offense.2. Limit the Turnovers
It’s not just the turnovers. It’s been the stupidity behind the turnovers, at times. Just making the correct play seems like a foreign concept for the Thunder here lately. Also, give Cameron Payne the opportunity to work through his mistakes. Even if you have to have Durant out there with him, just having another ball-handler out there will take the pressure off of Durant when Westbrook is not on the floor. It’s painfully obvious that Randy Foye is not a point guard. Seeing him bring the ball up sometimes is a circus to watch, and teams will start to key in on that.3. 48 minutes
Just play a full 48 against a good team. Get your confidence up. Just win, dammit!
Dame Lillard – There’s Damian. And then there is Dame. Dame is what you saw in the fourth quarter the last time the Thunder faced Portland. Well, Dame has made himself a lot more noticeable since the All-Star break. No lead is safe in the fourth quarter against him.