2012-2013 Game 37 Preview: Thunder See Benchless Blazers at the Rose

Gotta love Nick's "block face". - Mark D. Smith-US PRESSWIRE

The Portland Trail Blazers are one of this season's least talked about surprises. With a roster that basically only consists of five players, they've managed to work their way into playoff contention, and keep within a stone's throw of second place in the Northwest Division.

2012-2013 NBA Season
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The Oklahoma City Thunder (28-8)
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The Portland Trail Blazers (20-16)
January 13th, 2013
The Rose Garden Arena, Portland, Oregon
8:00 PM CST
Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, Comcast Sports Network Northwest
WWLS the Sports Animal (98.1), KEX 102.3 FM
Enemy Blogs: Blazer's Edge, The Portland Roundball Society, Rip City Project
Previous Meetings: Nov 3rd (Thunder Lead Season Series 1-0)
Probable Starters
Russell Westbrook PG Damian Lillard
Thabo Sefolosha SG Wesley Matthews
Kevin Durant SF Nicholas Batum
Serge Ibaka PF LaMarcus Aldridge
Kendrick Perkins C J.J. Hickson

The Portland Trail Blazers are one of this season's least talked about surprises. With a roster that basically only consists of five players, they've managed to work their way into playoff contention, and keep within a stone's throw of second place in the Northwest Division. Many thought this would be a rebuilding year for the Blazers, given the amount of young prospects and waiver wire fodder that populated their roster. But having a really solid starting lineup has allowed the Trail Blazers to make up for that weakness.

Obviously, the Blazers main weakness is consistency. The bench, as a whole, is totally atrocious. Meyers Leonard, the rookie, was their sole solid contributor before he recently went down with a sprained ankle. Now, it's just a bunch of guys who all shoot under 38% per game, and don't especially add any value to another particular area. Their head coach, Terry Stotts, has tried tons of different combinations in an attempt to jump start the team, using literally every player on the roster multiple times. But no lineup has ever really been able to stick, as nothing but the starting lineup has been used in over half of their games.

But therein also lies the Blazers biggest strength. They're a scrappy team that never gives up, so they regularly manage to mount comebacks when the opposing team has put things into cruise control mode. Just ask the Heat, who gave up a 12 point lead with about 8 minutes to go in the fourth last Thursday. The Blazers also very nearly came back against the Warriors, despite being down 20 and playing the second night of a back-to-back.

In terms of actual stats, the Trail Blazers are a three point shooting team if I ever saw one. Lillard, Batum, and Matthews combine for 19 attempts per game, and Luke Babbitt will usually fire up a couple as well. This is their strength as well as their achilles heel. In most of their big losses this year, the Blazers have really struggled from three. But when they're not sinking, they're swimming. In other areas, the Blazers don't stand out particularly. They're good at offensive boards and not fouling, but in general they're a pretty middle of the road team.

Tonight, the Blazers' strategy will likely be to have a wing guard Westbrook and try to force him into bad shots, hampering the Thunder's offense. They'll also likely go to J.J. Hickson a lot, hoping that he can nullify Perk's interior defense like he did in the last game. The Thunder's strategy will most likely be traditional, but I could see them trying to push leads in the third and fourth by shooting a higher amount of threes.

The Thunder had a sound victory when they played the Blazers at home in November, but the team hadn't really hit their stride yet, and were still trying to figure out their rotations. Now that the Thunder are on the road and the Blazers have improved, tonight's game should go down to the final minutes of the fourth.

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 99, Portland Trail Blazers 96.

If you are looking for tickets to upcoming games, you can find Oklahoma City Thunder tickets here.

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