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Raucous Thunder meet reputable Blazers

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We talk Aldridge's Thumbs, Afflalo, OKC's lineups, and why the Thunder's new guys make them better than Portland.

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Prepare for impact.
Prepare for impact.
Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Are LaMarcus Aldridge's thumbs okay?

Much ado was made back in late January when LaMarcus Aldridge was scheduled to have thumb surgery. The operation was slated to keep Aldridge out until late March. LaMarcus would hear none of it, deciding to play through the hurt thumb for the rest of the season. The decision appeared to the the right one at the time. Aldridge was playing like his old self, and Portland was winning their important games.

But now, Aldridge is struggling. In LaMarcus' first game out of the All-Star break, he shot 31% against the Utah Jazz. That was mostly due to double teams, but it was later revealed that Aldridge sustained an injury to his other thumb against the Jazz. As a result, Aldridge had to sit out the Blazers next game, against the Grizzlies. Aldridge returned for Portland last night against the Spurs, but looked woeful. Dave Deckard of Blazers' Edge had this to say in his recap:

"The only dim spot in this shining victory comes from Aldridge. The worry has nothing to do with this game or his effect on it. He didn't play badly, he just looked off, especially on his jumper. To the causal eye it may have seemed like a bad night, but if you're accustomed to his bankable form and clockwork excellence, the difference was glaring. Whatever thumb issues he's dealing with appear to be recurring, their influence demonstrable. That is not good news for the Trail Blazers despite the win."

How is Aaron Afflalo fitting in?

In two games, Afflalo is averaging 9 points on 43% from the field, and that's exactly what the Blazers need. Here's Willy Raedy of Blazers' Edge on Afflalo's performance against the Grizzlies:

"Afflalo didn't score much but he played solid defense, pressuring out along the perimeter and pinching into the lane for a steal. Whether we give the credit to Afflalo, Wright, or a more active Kaman, the second unit looked better than it has all year."

And here's Dave Deckard on Afflalo's performance against the Spurs:

"The Blazers didn't play perfectly but at least they weren't playing tug-'o-war against themselves. Matthews and Batum were superlative. Lillard, Chris Kaman, and Arron Afflalo bolstered them nicely, pressuring San Antonio's sludge-slow defense to cover multiple avenues ... Arron Afflalo got open looks in the offense and hit same, scoring 10 on 4-8 shooting, 2-4 from distance in 25 minutes."

Quite honestly, those reports couldn't be more glowing. Quite simply, the Blazers haven't had a legitimate wing on their bench in forever, and Afflalo finally provides them with one. This gives Portland a huge insurance policy for the critical time between quarters, or at least someone who can keep things looking reasonable. In other words, Afflalo doesn't reinvent the wheel, he simply makes the Blazers better at what they already do.

Who are the real Thunder starters?

Scott Brooks starts Kyle Singler and Andre Roberson at small forward and shooting guard, respectively. But these two players are starters in name only. In practice, the starters are Dion Waiters and D.J. Augustin. Brooks has consistently trotted out Waiters and Augustin in crunch time when the situation has arisen. Even in blowout wins, Waiters and Augustin manage to register more time than Singler and Roberson.

It's easy to see why Augustin is on the bench. The Thunder need someone to handle the ball while Westbrook is off the floor. But the reason for Waiters' benching is less obvious. Because Waiters' game requires him to create for himself, Dion has a much easier time scoring against bench lineups. As such, Dion has struggled when playing amongst the starters in crunch time. Last night's game at the Suns was a particularly sour performance. In the fourth quarter and OT, Dion went 1-6 from the field with 3 fouls, a turnover, and a steal. In crunch time action against the Hornets on the 21st, Dion was practically nonexistant, simply missing a shot and grabbing a rebound. Regardless of how badly Dion plays though, I see Brooks consistently going to him over the other three wing options. Dion is simply more dynamic, and Brooks wants the offense to work above all else.

What can the Thunder improve on?

Here's our own Chris Hanneke on why the Thunder lost their December 23rd game against the Blazers:

"The Thunder actually dominated the inside, outscoring the Blazers 54-24 in the paint. The Blazers simply let the Thunder play physical inside, though, and did their damage from the perimeter. Portland was 17-31 (54.8%) from 3, compared to just 6-19 (31.6%) for OKC. The scoring from outside meant the Blazers could score quick, and trim down any lead, and that's what they did."

It should be noted that Robin Lopez was out during that matchup. However, the Thunder also didn't have Enes Kanter. Thus, how tonight's game will go could very well reflect what's going on at the center postion. When you look at Kanter head to head with Lopez historically, Lopez has had a slight edge. Both centers usually end up having good offensive lines, though.

It should also be noted that the Thunder are much better at three pointers now than they were on December 23rd. Kyle Singler and D.J. Augustin bring some serious range, allowing OKC to actually keep pace with most Western teams. The Thunder are still nowhere as good as the Blazers from beyond the arc, but they are good enough to make sure that there isn't a 20% gap between the team's percentages.

In other words, I believe the Thunder's new acquisitions make them just a bit better than the Blazers. KD is out right now, but Aldridge isn't inspiring confidence either. If Aldridge gets going or something goes wrong on OKC's end I could see Portland winning, but as of right now I think the Thunder have the edge.

Prediction: Oklahoma City Thunder 109, Portland Trail Blazers 108.

What do you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!

2014-15 NBA Season Game 59
(Lost 1)

(Won 1)
February 27th, 2015
The Rose Garden, Portland, Oregon
9:30 PM Central Standard Time
TV: Entertainment Sports Programming Network, Fox Sports Network Oklahoma, Comcast Sports Network Northwest
Injury Report: Joel Freeland (Out), Kevin DurantSteven Adams, Steve Novak (Out)
This Season's Matchups: Oct 29 (L 89-106), Dec 23 (L, 111-115)
Probable Starters
Russell Westbrook PG Damian Lillard
Andre Roberson SG Wes Matthews
Kyle Singler SF Nicholas Batum
Serge Ibaka PF LaMarcus Aldridge
Enes Kanter C Robin Lopez

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