Records: The Oklahoma City Thunder (5-1) at The Portland Trail Blazers (3-1)
Time: 7:00 PM Central Standard Time
Place: The Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
TV: Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, Comcast Sports Network Northwest
Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1), Newsradio 750 KXL
Enemy Blog(s): A Stern Warning, Blazersedge, Portland Roundball Society, Rip City Project, The Blazers' Official Blogs
There's no rest for the Thunder as they head back up I-35 back to the Chesapeake Energy Arena. After a tough loss to the defending champions, they have to turn around and face this year's Western Conference surprise, the Portland Trail Blazers. Believe it or not, the injury-rattled team has gotten off to a 3-1 start this season, and, aside from the Thunder, are the only remaining one loss team in the West. So tonight will be the two teams at the top of the West standings going at it for one seed.
But when you look past the record, the Trail Blazers run hasn't been particularly impressive. Their only wins have come against Philadelphia, Sacramento, and Denver. Philly is still in the muddled middle of the East, while Sacremento and Denver are expected to crash and burn this year in the West. Meanwhile, their one loss was to the Clippers, who are a highlight factory, but not exactly a powerhouse, either.
The Blazers used to be the polar opposite of the Thunder, pounding the ball into the floor and using all 24 seconds of the shot clock. They were extremely effective at guarding Kevin Durant, and the games were, quite frankly, extremely painful and boring to watch.
But last year, the Trail Blazers lost a bit of the size they always had, and were forced to up their tempo. They were helped by acquisitions like Gerald Wallace, but they could never quite get the hang of playing the Thunder. Whenever they played small, they weren't quick enough to force turnovers like most smaller teams do, and they certainly couldn't run with the Thunder. Thus, they suffered from a lack of defense and rebounding in the post, while reaping none of small ball's benefits. The games were always competitive, don't get me wrong. But the Thunder would usually control the pace, and were winning relatively handily by the end of the season.
The only real change since that time has been the addition of Jamal Crawford, who replaces Brandon Roy on the bench, and the addition of Craig Smith and Kurt Thomas. Smith isn't really used, but the addition of Thomas could be a threat if he provides the rebounding and defense the Trail Blazers need.
Still, I'm predicting another significant victory for the Thunder. Until Greg Oden gets back, the Blazers will only win one out of every 7 or 8 games against the Thunder, when their offense happens to click on all cylinders. Otherwise, get ready to count this as yet another solid home win.
Lastly, it might be a good idea to keep an eye on the injury reports to see whether Sefolosha or Cook will play today. Both are sick with the flu, and Sefolosha re-aggravated a heel injury that he's been battling since opening day. We'll do our best to keep track of their status. I don't think whether they play will affect the outcome of the game, since it's usually won in the post. It would still be nice to have them around, though.
Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 105, Portland Trail Blazers 101