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2012-2013 Game 71 Preview: Struggling Thunder See Return of Maynor and Blazers

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In a world where the Thunder are struggling, Portland isn't a sight for sore eyes.

I'm probably the only person on this earth who didn't like this movie. But the concept works!
I'm probably the only person on this earth who didn't like this movie. But the concept works!
William Bennett Berry
2012-2013 NBA Season
The Portland Trail Blazers (33-36)
The Oklahoma City Thunder (51-19)
March 24th, 2013
Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
6 PM Central Daylight Time
Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, Comcast Sports Network Northwest
WWLS the Sports Animal (98.1), KEX 102.3 FM
Enemy Blogs: Blazer's Edge, The Portland Roundball Society, Rip City Project
Previous Meetings: Nov 3rd, Jan 13 (Thunder Lead Season Series 2-0)
Injury Report: Nick Collison (Probable), Elliot Williams (Out), Sasha Pavlovic (Out), Victor Claver (Out)
Probable Starters
Damian Lillard PG Russell Westbrook
Wesley Matthews SG Thabo Sefolosha
Nicholas Batum SF Kevin Durant
LaMarcus Aldridge PF Serge Ibaka
J.J. Hickson C Kendrick Perkins

In a world where the Thunder are struggling, Portland isn't a sight for sore eyes. It's true that they had a heroic crash in February, going 3-9 and nearly destroying their playoff hopes. Their chances of a birth right now are slim at best, but their play has improved dramatically with the addition of Eric Maynor. Maynor isn't a world-beater, but the Blazers bench has been so catastrophically bad that virtually anybody who could ball at an NBA level would have been a huge boon.

As a result, aside from a few token minutes, the Blazers basically run a 7 man rotation with Meyers Leonard and Maynor. The starting 5 is a force to be reckoned with, though. Damian Lillard has emerged as a consensus rookie of the year candidate, functioning as a scoring guard within the Blazers excellent passing scheme. That very scheme is what makes the Blazers so strong. At least four of the players on the floor at any time will have excellent court vision and a great ability to set up their teammates. The Blazers aren't the best passing team in the league, but their distribution doesn't end when Lillard or Maynor releases the ball.

The Blazers do generally ride the hot hand though, so it's hard to tell who exactly is going to be a threat. Obviously, LaMarcus Aldridge will always have a better night than usual against OKC, because the Thunder are terrible at guarding bigs who can shoot. (More info on that here.) Also, the Lillard-Westbrook battle will be entertaining, but the results have been mixed, with both of them scoring well in November and both of them clanking shots in January. Aside from those two points, it's all a mystery. Nicholas Batum and Wesley Matthews certainly have the ability to burn the Thunder with their threes, especially against the bench. But they've yet to prove it this year. J.J. Hickson can get his points, but can he exploit the recent interior defense woes the Thunder have been having? Eric Maynor is looking for revenge, but other former Thunder players haven't fared so well when returning to the Peake.

At the end of the day though, I really feel like the Thunder are in for a wake up call. They played extremely poorly against the hapless Magic, and there's an array of problems with the team. The Thunder's bench can't really take care of Portland's fatigue in the second or third, the defense wasn't able to stop guards from waltzing inside constantly, and nobody was able to step up and run the offense in the fourth quarter. Against the Blazers, that just isn't going to fly, especially if it's the defensive battle that we're all expecting.

Prediction: Portland Trail Blazers 97, Oklahoma City Thunder 94.

If you are looking for tickets to upcoming games, you can find Oklahoma City Thunder tickets here.