2013-2014 Game 31 Preview: Thunder Get Second Shot at Blazers

I'd take this matchup any day of the week. - USA TODAY Sports Images

What will it take for the Thunder to continue their post-Westbrook success?

2013-2014 NBA Season
Trailblazers_medium
@
Thunder_medium
24-7
Lost 2

25-5
Won 3
December 31st, 2013
Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
7:00 PM Central Standard Time
TV: National Basketball Association Television, Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, Keep Growing Wiser NewsChannel 8
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM/640 AM), KPOJ 620 AM
Injury Report: Russell Westbrook (Out), C.J. McCollum (Out)
Previous Matchups: Dec 4 (Trail Blazers Lead Season's Series 1-0)
Probable Starters
Damian Lillard PG Reggie Jackson
Wes Matthews SG Thabo Sefolosha
Nicholas Batum SF Kevin Durant
LaMarcus Aldridge PF Serge Ibaka
Robin Lopez C Kendrick Perkins
2013/14 Advanced Stats
97.2 (13th) Pace 99.1 (5th)
110.4 (1st) ORtg 106.8 (4th)
105.0 (23rd) DRtg 97.4 (2nd)

Like many of you, I'm taking it a bit easy around New Year's, so I don't have an in-depth preview like I do on most nights. It's funny that it's come on the same day that we have what could be the most important matchup of this year, but we already know what the Blazers are all about.

Heading into this game, they've dropped two very close games against the Miami Heat and New Orleans Pelicans. The Heat basically outscored the Blazers with some ridiculous offensive efficiency, while the Pelicans dominated the boards and pushed the pace to absurd levels. The Thunder are the league's best team in terms of rebounding differential and have an excellent offense, so both of those things are definitely achievable. But I feel like they will play to the Thunder's advantage during different times of the game, based on what lineup we're using. Thus, I've come up with a couple of things the Thunder have to do across both lineups if they want to seal the victory tonight.

1. The Thunder have to control the pace. The Blazers basically dominated the Thunder playing half-court ball last time, using the ruthless efficiency of their "flow" offense to score at will. The Thunder are definitely less of a fast-break oriented team than they were with Westbrook at the helm, but they still need to force back court turnovers and get a few offensive freebies against such an elite team.

2. The Thunder have to move the ball. When these two teams last faced off, the Thunder were only able to rack up about 11 assists. As J.A. Sherman noted in his recap, it was because Durant and Westbrook were lulled into semi-difficult shots by lax defense. With the team now missing Westbrook, they might actually be more efficient at creating shots. That is, assuming that Reggie Jackson doesn't force the issue, like he did against Kemba Walker.

It should be an excellent game, and I truly hope that you guys enjoy your New Years. It was a most excellent 2013!

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 106, Portland Trail Blazers 103.

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