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Thunder vs. Trail Blazers: Will the Thunder Continue Their Success? (2011-2012 Game 50 Preview)

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GameThread tonight at 9, be there!

Records: Oklahoma City Thunder (37-12) at Portland Trail Blazers (23-26)

Time: 9:00 PM Central Daylight Time

Place: The Rose Garden, Portland, Oregon

TV: Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, KGW Newschannel 8 Portland

Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal, 750AM The Game

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

Previous Meeting(s): Jan. 3, Feb. 6, Mar. 18 (Thunder Lead Season Series 2-1)

The Thunder have no excuse for losing tonight. With the Trail Blazers in full tank mode and Raymond Felton out with injury, it seems like the Thunder should cruise to certain victory. Right?

Well, maybe not. Despite the Trail Blazers having not the most perfect of recent weeks, they have beaten the Memphis Grizzlies, who are every bit as fierce as last year's playoff incarnation. Granted, they've lost to the bottom dweller Kings and barely defeated the lowly Warriors, but there's still fight left in this team. Defense seems to the the name of the game for the Trail Blazers, as they just don't have the offensive firepower to outscore any team but the Bobcats. Aldridge is a nice consistent weapon, but the rest of their team is pretty much a collection of spot scorers who show up on different nights.

Their defense can be wildly inconsistent. As Dave of Blazer's Edge has said, they succeeded in winning against the Grizzlies because of good half-court defense, and he attributes the Warriors' win to good transition defense.

Offensively, they rely a lot on the three and getting to the line. Without the penetrating threat of Raymond Felton, their reliance on the three should increase. This really doesn't say a whole lot about the outcome of the game, since living and dying by the three generally means a team is inconsistent as a whole.

So what Trail Blazers team shows up tonight is anyone's guess. Such is the course of a team in flux. Regardless, it's guaranteed that they'll rely on Aldridge for a good chunk of their offense, and that they'll play a generally slow place. If the Thunder can counteract both of those things by not leaving Aldridge open for jumpers and getting out on transition, things should be just fine.

With Raymond Felton out, Nolan Smith should see extended action. Jamal Crawford might take the starting spot, but he's generally only good as a PG in certain spots, so the Trail Blazers might want to give their rookie a trial by fire. He's a pretty diverse scorer with a unique jumper, but hasn't really proven that he can be an effective distributor yet. Since he's been turnover prone in the few outings we've seen him in with the Blazers, getting those few turnovers from Smith might be the key to getting out in transition and an easy Thunder victory.

But, before I come off as sounding too confident, I must admit that before the Heat win on Sunday, many were questioning the Thunder's motivation at this point in this season, especially after the disastrous loss to the Jazz. Poor coaching decisions, lazy running of plays, and an over-abundance of jump shots were all concerns that were raised. I'm glad they showed up on Sunday, but when the cameras are off, will the Thunder come to perform? If the Thunder can continue their intensity tonight, those discussions will be laid to rest.

All in all, this game should be a relatively easy win. I don't think that the Thunder will blow them out like they did at home a couple of weeks ago, but a solid run during a Blazers offensive dry spell should get the Thunder a 10 point lead that they'll be able to keep.

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 102, Portland Trail Blazers 93