Trailblazers (11-15, 5-9 road) vs. Thunder (16-8, 11-3 home)
TV: FS Oklahoma
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 1300 AM The Buzz Tulsa)
Time: 7:00 PM CST
- Offensive Rating: Thunder – 107.6 (2nd), Trailblazers – 103.7 (7th)
Defensive Rating: Thunder – 100.0 (10th), Trailblazers – 104.1 (22nd)
The Oklahoma City Thunder have finally put together a nice little streak, but it doesn’t feel like they have been dominant during this run of games. Maybe its the recency effect taking over due to the Jazz games being a bit closer than expected. Or maybe its the fact the Thunder are chasing two teams that are currently on historic tracks through the first quarter of the season. It almost feels like, regardless what the Thunder do, they are playing for third in the conference, no matter what. The Thunder could churn out 10 wins in a row and only gain a game or two on the Warriors and Spurs. And that can be a bit deflating this early in the season.
Putting my feelings on the conference’s top heavy nature aside, it’s good to finally see the Thunder put together a nice string of games. They’ve dominated two current playoff teams (Memphis and Atlanta) and have found ways to win games in which they did not play their best (Utah x2 and Sacramento). After going through a week where the Thunder struggled with their late game execution, they have now found ways to either hold on to leads or to crawl back from deficits to win games. And a lot of that has to do with the fact the Thunder have Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook on their team. Durant has hit big shots in this past week and Westbrook has averaged nearly a triple-double in the last 5 games.
This is the first of four meeting between these Northwest Division rivals. The Portland Trailblazers and Thunder have been the class of the division for the past 5 seasons. While that will likely continue on the Thunder’s behalf this season, the Trailblazers seem to be in a bit of a reloading phase after losing four of their starters in the offseason via free agency and trades. The Trailblazers won the season series last year, 3-1, as Portland played the Thunder in their various states throughout the season (with KD, without KD, with Kanter, without Ibaka, etc).The Opponent
The Trailblazers come into the game with an 11-15 record, having lost 3 of their last 5. The Trailblazers probably had the most roster turnover of any team this offseason. They lost four of their previous starters, as LaMarcus Aldridge, Robin Lopez, and Wes Matthews all left via free agency, while Nic Batum was traded to the Charlotte Hornets. Instead of doing a complete rebuild, though, Portland decided to do a reload with younger players around remaining starter Damian Lillard. The results are trending positively for the time being. Portland was predicted to be at or near the bottom of the Western Conference, but have been very competitive so far.
Lillard has been his usual great self on the offensive end, scoring 24.7 points and handing out 6.7 assists per game. His backcourt mate, CJ McCollum seems to have gotten over his foot injuries and has been, what I like to call, Steph Curry-lite. He’s scoring nearly 20 points per game and can score from anywhere on the court. Al-Farouq Aminu, who signed with Portland in the offseason, has been a bit disappointing, averaging just 10.9 points per game, while shooting just 39.1% from the field. Up front, Mason Plumlee and Noah Vonleh are being given the chance to show what they can bring to the table. The young front court duo is averaging just 12.6 points and 11.4 rebounds per game combined. Off the bench, veteran SG Gerald Henderson and Allen Crabbe have been valuable as floor spacers (45.5% and 38.8% from the 3-point line, respectively), while Meyers Leonard and Ed Davis make up the back-up front court.3 Big Things
This is definitely their strength. Lillard and McCollum are extremely versatile on the offensive end. They can both shoot from deep and are adept at getting to the rim. This is one of those games where Andre Roberson’s value needs to shine. Because if not, he’ll be a net negative on both ends of the court.
Portland is definitely a team that lives and dies by the three. They have 5 rotation players that are shooting over 34.5% from deep. In win, they average 11.6 threes per game. In losses, that number decreases by over 3 makes to 8.3. The 3-point FG% also decreases in losses by almost 8%. This is definitely not a game where Westbrook needs to gambling on defense.
This game will be entirely dependent on him. If he goes out there and treats this game like a one on one, mano a mano matchup against Lillard, then the team suffers. But if he stay within the confines of the game plan, the Thunder should have the upper hand.Slump-Buster (Opposing player most likely to break out against the Thunder)
Al-Farouq Aminu – This just seems like one of those games where someone like Aminu will make 4 3-pointers on 6 attempts and will score double his current average.