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Decimated Thunder prep for matchup with Blazers

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With so many injuries, the Thunder will lean heavily on Russell Westbrook for the duration of the game. He and Sebastian Telfair are literally the only active ball handlers.

He's not rollin' solo, but he might as well be.
He's not rollin' solo, but he might as well be.
William Bennett Berry
2014 NBA Season Game 1
(Won/Lost 0)

(Won/Lost 0)
October 29th, 2014
Moda Center, Portland, Oregon
9:30 PM Central Daylight Time
TV: Entertainment Sports Programming Network, Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, KGW-TV 8
Injury Report: Kevin Durant, Reggie Jackson, Mitch McGary, Jeremy Lamb, Anthony Morrow, Grant Jerrett, Meyers Leonard (Out)
Previous Matchups: Dec 4 (L 104-111), Dec 31 (L 94-98), Jan 21 (W 105-97), Feb 11 (W 98-95)
Probable Starters
Russell Westbrook PG Damian Lillard
Andre Roberson SG Wesley Matthews
Perry Jones III SF Nicholas Batum
Serge Ibaka PF LaMarcus Aldridge
Steven Adams C Robin Lopez

Last year, the matchups between the Thunder and the Blazers in the regular season were something to behold. Both teams managed to always level out for a close finish, despite dramatic games full of runs that constantly threatened to put one team out of reach. The reason for it seemed to be that the Blazers were always good about staying at home on their Thunder role players. This led to the Thunder's stars forcibly carrying the team, which can have varying degrees of success.

Of course, the more successful of the Thunder's two stars against the Blazers last year was Kevin Durant. Westbrook was out for all but the first matchup of the series, in which he shot 7 of 17 and the Thunder lost. It is worth noting that Westbrook dominated Damian Lillard when Lillard was a rookie. Still, Westbrook didn't face this type of adversity back then.

What do I mean by adversity? Well, he's literally the only reliable ballhandler in the starting lineup. Andre Roberson and Perry Jones III are glorified defense-first forwards. It's dangerous to have them put the ball on the floor for more than a couple seconds, because they're just too long and slow to do much with it. Don't expect any help to come from the bench. The only help coming from there will be via Sebastian Telfair, who last played in China. The other three bench players (Perkins, Collison, Thomas) are all primarily post-based.

This leaves the Thunder between a rock and a hard place. They've either got to accept the fact that they're going to turn the ball over constantly, or try to work out some sort of 2 PG lineup. Even if Telfair and Westbrook were to play together, it's not easy to see the tandem playing rock-solid perimeter defense. Meanwhile, the duo that will be expected to do some handling, Jones and Roberson, are coming off of injuries of their own.

On the other end, the Blazers are coming into the game nearly fully stocked. The Blazers proved themselves as one of the league's highest quality offenses last season, and are returning their complete starting five. No particular player stood out against the Thunder more than LaMarcus Aldridge, who dropped 38 points on the Thunder in a convincing early-season victory. He would drop in two more solid performances against the Thunder before turning in a 5 of 22 clunker in the finale. It wasn't really a reflection of LMA's abilities though, since he was dealing with injury at the time.

Aldridge will be facing basically the same defenders in Ibaka and Collison, so he might be in for another good night. The Thunder don't have enough personnel to effectively go small on Aldridge, so he'll be hitting jumpers with relative ease. I'm also betting that the Blazers will run the Thunder off the floor at times. The Thunder are long and reasonably athletic, but their general foot speed isn't very good. If the Blazers can move the ball and push the break, this game will be over rather quickly.

What would it take for a Thunder victory? Either an absolute miracle from the perimeter or a really clunky defensive game. This team simply isn't built to play a basketball game. The three point shooting is dreadful, so the Blazers are going to eventually figure out that all they have to do is protect the rim. This will result in lots of bad outside shots from Westbrook and Telfair, who will probably resemble flies trying to get through a sliding glass door.

I know it seems like I'm forgetting about two very important pieces here. One is Serge Ibaka. And yes, I will admit that his floor-spacing ability could be a real asset in this game. I'm even willing to let him handle the ball a little, under these dire circumstances. But his past performances against the Blazers have been really weak. He shot under 30% against Portland twice last year, as well as failing to register more than 5 rebounds twice. Aldridge simply doesn't leave him open or give him offensive boards, and it's worth noting that Ibaka's best performance came while Aldridge was injured.

Anyway, I'm also forgetting about Steven Adams. He's finally our starting center. I'm excited, but I feel like this whole thing is way too overhyped. Adams showed promise last year, and has carved out quite a niche for himself in the pre-season. But he's still rough around the edges. He'll still make mistakes on defense or bite off more than he can chew on offense. I could see him being a double-double guy ideally, but he only registered double digits three times last season. Against mostly second units. I'm not trying to be a downer or anything, but I just don't see him providing a ton of offensive help tonight. He could definitely do his part by keeping Lopez in check, though.

In the end, this is going to be one ugly West Coast road trip to start off the year. Unless Sebastian Telfair surprises us all and lives up to the hype. I believe!

Prediction: Portland Trail Blazers 114, Oklahoma City Thunder 87.

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