Oklahoma City Thunder vs Portland Trail Blazers: 2011-2012 Game 24 Preview

GameThread at 9:00 CST

Records: Oklahoma City Thunder (18-5) at Portland Trail Blazers (14-10)

Time: 9:00 PM Central Standard Time

Place: Rose Garden, Portland, Oregon

TV: Comcast and NBATV

Radio: 750AM The Game, Thunder Radio Network, Fox Sports Oklahoma

Enemy Blog(s): Blazers Edge, Portland Roundball Society

Previous Meeting(s): Jan. 3 (Portland leads series 1-0)

***

The Thunder head north to Portland to face a Trail Blazers team that was responsible for handing OKC their first (and only) home loss of this season. Tonight's game comes at an uneasy time for the Thunder, as they just wrapped up a week where their play could most favorably be described as "uneven." OKC played one good half against Dallas, one good quarter against Memphis, and for the rest of the time seemed like they were always the second-best team on the court. Portland is a good, sound team and has the ability to make OKC look the same way once again.

If we hearken back to the first game against the Blazers, that match-up was one where the Thunder got weaker over time as the Blazers got stronger. OKC played fast and lose while Portland played conservatively, protected the ball, and rode the broad shoulders of LaMarcus Aldridge to the win. By the end of the game, OKC was chucking up bad shots and had little fight left, scoring only 19 in the final quarter.

How best to avoid a repeat performance? It will not be easy, since Portland, while struggling on the road, has been dominant at home. The Thunder are a respectable 9-4 on the road so far, but as we saw in both LA and San Antonio, they can struggle with their focus and fundamentals.

A few key facets:

  • I checked in with some of the Blazer fans to see why they thought Portland did so well against the Thunder, and they came to the same conclusion that we did. Portland started out playing OKC physically, and by the end of the game Kevin Durant and company had retreated to the perimeter. Durant will once again be going up against the physical defensive play of Gerald Wallace, but this time around KD must be committed to working on his inside game and not drift away from the rim again. If we see him hoist more than five 3-pointers again, we'll know whether or not the Blazer defense is getting to him.
  • Ray Felton will not be suiting up tonight. This late-game scratch is going to pose an interesting dilemma for the Thunder. While Felton is a quick pass-first point guard who likes to get to the rim, his replacement Jamal Crawford is a gunner who can shoot his team in or out of a game. Russell Westbrook will have the advantage in that individual match-up, but Westbrook must be careful not to allow it to turn into a mano y mano affair. There will be times when Westbrook can exploit the match-up, but it has to be within the overall context and he must be careful not to lose the ball on his forays to the rim. Marcus Camby, even at age 37, is still going strong defending the rim and in last game alone had 20 rebounds and two blocks.
  • The Thunder lost twice last week to teams that killed them by shooting a high percentage from the outside. The Blazers are...a good perimeter jump-shooting team. In their last game alone, Nicolas Batum shot 9-15 from 3-point range and the team shot 15-33 overall. The Thunder must focus on these shooters and crowd them out so they do not get good looks.
  • Don't say anything about Aldridge's car.
I think the Thunder are going to have a tough time tonight. Portland plays great in front of a phenomenal crowd at home, and OKC has shown a tendency to play passively against the Blazers. Tonight I'm looking more for some growth in the team's focus both in their perimeter defense as well as in their attention to hanging onto the ball. Thunder turnovers tend to come in bunches, so tonight's game will be a good test for their game-long concentration. I expect the Blazers to win, but I hope the Thunder will put up a better fight than Saturday night.

***

Prediction: Trail Blazers 98, Thunder 92

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