2013-2014 Game 54 Preview: Thunder vs. Trail Blazers, with a side of KD Drama

William Bennett Berry

KD has been dominant against the Blazers, but it might not even matter. Hit the jump to find out why!

2013-2014 NBA Season
Thunder_medium
@
Trailblazers_medium
40-12
Won 1

36-15
Won 1
February 11th, 2014
The Moda Center, Portland, Oregon
9:00 PM Central Standard Time
TV: National Basketball Association Television, Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, Comcast Sports Network West
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM/640 AM), KPOJ 620 AM
Injury Report: Russell Westbrook (Out), Mo Williams (Not With Team)
Previous Matchups: Dec 4, Dec 30, Jan 21 (Trail Blazers Lead Season Series 2-1)
Probable Starters
Reggie Jackson PG Damian Lillard
Thabo Sefolosha SG Wesley Matthews
Kevin Durant SF Nicholas Batum
Serge Ibaka PF LaMarcus Aldridge
Kendrick Perkins C Robin Lopez
2013/14 Advanced Stats
97.4 (11th) Pace 97.9 (T-8th)
107.7 (5th) ORtg 108.9 (2nd)
99.4 (4th) DRtg 105.3 (T-21st)

If there's one thing Kevin Durant can do, it's score. If there's one thing Kevin Durant can REALLY do, it's score against the Trail Blazers. He's scored 33, 37, and 46 in his three matchups with Portland this season, never shooting below 46%.

Why has KD been so successful?

  • The Trail Blazers absolutely refuse to double-team him.
  • The Trail Blazers only let Nicholas Batum defend him, so Durant is never distracted by fresh legs.

Basically, the Blazers outright dare KD to score as many points as he can. Two times out of three, that strategy has worked. When you egg him into taking on so much of the load so early, he tends to fizzle out earlier in the game. Case in point: During the December 4th matchup, he shot 2-5 while Batum went 2-3. That trend continued into the December 31st matchup, with Durant going 0-5 in the fourth while Batum went 2-3.

The exception came during the January 21st game, when Durant went 6-7 in the fourth quarter while Batum went 0-1. What was the difference? To be honest, it's a really hard question to answer. There wasn't much variation in how KD was used between the games, and KD didn't really change direction or focus. The best explanation I can give is that the team did a slightly better job at getting him the ball in the right places, and that there are some nights where guys are just going to dominate.

Really, if the Thunder are going to beat the Blazers tonight, they're going to have to step up when it matters. These two teams have both had legitimate chances to win it deep in the fourth quarter, during every single matchup this season. It seems doubtful that either team would find a critical flaw in the other at this point, though I will say that the KD/Batum matchup is the best indicator of either team's success.

The Blazers aren't exactly in top shape, though. After an extremely strong 31-9 start, they've fallen off over the last few weeks, going 5-6. The schedule has been tough and has featured a lot of away games, but the Trail Blazers have definitely lost their aura as a legitimate contender for the title. There's a great article about this by Dave Deckard over at Blazer's Edge. In a nutshell, the team became a little bit complacent, players got a little bit too aggressive, and some of their philosophy has gotten lost.

Whether that will come into play tonight is anyone's guess, but I'm gonna go ahead and predict a Blazer victory for now. The Thunder's offense flopped in the fourth quarter against a bad Magic team, and I just don't think that Ibaka or Jackson has proven themselves to be consistently effective enough against the Blazers. Because they single-cover KD, he can't quarterback the team as much as he'd like to, and Ibaka and Jackson have to create more of their own points.

Prediction: Portland Trail Blazers 103, Oklahoma City Thunder 97.

What do you think about tonight's game? Let us know in the comments!

Looking for some live analysis or silly commentary during the game? Why not give @WTLC a follow on Twitter?

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