This preview is coming in hella late, but I'm blaming the fact that my internet was out for two days.
Anyway, as you probably know, Portland just came off of a massive victory against the Indiana Pacers at home, and still hold the Northwest Division title. This is the first time that the Thunder have had another team make a serious run at the division since 2011, when the Nuggets were a lot better. And if early season returns are any indication, the Trailblazers stand a serious chance of taking that title from the Thunder.
The Blazers have an extremely potent offense. As the advanced stats above should tell you, they do the most that they can with the fewest possessions. In other words, they're not the Clippers, who aim to run you off the floor. Instead, they want to play a normal pace and simply outscore you that way. It might explain why they were so effective against the Blazers, because they don't utilize any tricks or gimmicks.
But if one wants to look at how it's possible to beat the Trail Blazers, then one need look no further than the Phoenix Suns. The Blazers and Suns have faced off four times this season, with the Suns taking two matchups handily, and losing the third by only a point. How did the Suns fare so well? Their offense was ruthlessly efficient. In both of their victories against the Blazers (and an early season victory from the Rockets) have the Blazers opponents shooting over 50% from the field. When looked at alone, that's a very scary statistic. Basically, it means that you've got to find some serious holes in their defense or have a great shooting night in order to win. And only the Heat can manage the latter option on a regular basis.
How did the Suns exploit the Blazers' D? For the answer, I look toÂ Dave Deckard of Blazers Edge, who came up with a 5 point list in his recap of the Blazers most recent defeat. Be sure to check out his whole article, but I'll be reproducing his list below, and expounding upon the bullet points to explain how the Thunder could potentially exploit that advantage.
- #1. Control the boards. This should be easy enough. Perk is always a liability on the boards, but the addition of Steven Adams has effectively balanced out any of those concerns.
- #2. Push the pace and make 'em scramble. Easier said than done, but this one is absolutely essential, in my opinion. The Thunder rely on getting defensive stops to jump start their offense, so as long as they can get a steal or long rebound here or there, they should be fine. The starters should be especially good at pushing the pace, as they tend to shoot much earlier in the shot clock due to the presence of Westbrook.
- #3. Use your star to create pressure on the defense then find the open man when it caves. Check that one off the list. That's what the entire Thunder offense is based off of. I mean, we hardly even run plays anymore.
- #4. The Blazers bigs are mostly landlines, so if you've got mobile bigs, take advantage. If that sounds confusing, that basically means use a big, fast shooter if you've got one. The Thunder DO have Serge Ibaka, but he's not quite the three point marksman that Frye or the Morris twins are. Moreover, the other three Thunder bigs don't present much of a long-range threat. However, this could come in handy when the Thunder go small with Durant at power forward.
- #5. Don't make the idiotic mistake of leaving Portland shooters open on the weak side. This is going to be a HUGE problem for the Thunder early in the game. Our starting lineup is notorious for leaving weak-side shooters open and gambling for steals. I wouldn't expect the Thunder to be strong in this area unless they roll out their three point guard lineup, to be honest.
Anyway, on the Thunder's side of things, they're coming off of a close win last night in Sacramento. It is the second game of a back-to-back, but they've played two games less than the Blazers and are coming off of a huge home stand, so I don't think stamina will be a factor.
Jeremy Lamb is coming off of a series of efficient offensive performances. I wouldn't say that he's ready to be a consistent primary offensive option, but he's definitely found his niche within the team and has earned himself some crunch-time minutes. Meanwhile, Russell Westbrook continues to struggle with efficient offense and turnovers, and most teams are containing him by simply putting a bigger wing defender on him. However, he's historically had a better game than Damian Lillard every time the two have matched up, so tonight should be a good litmus test in relation to Russ' progress in getting back to peak form.
All in all, tonight should be an extremely close matchup. It's true that the Thunder swept the Blazers last season, but the Blazers had to run their starters ragged. They had no bench to speak of back then, and their interior defense isn't what it was today. Plus, the game that occurred at the end of the season was a total farce, with the Blazers having basically mailed it in at that point. So I wouldn't read too much into the past, but I'm certainly looking forward to tonight.
Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 111, Portland Trail Blazers 110
What do you think about tonight's game? Let us know in the comments!