Where They At: Oklahoma City Thunder
The Lakers win was ugly, adding to the sense that the Thunder’s 9 of 11 winning run is emblematic of a very good team with very real concerns. Here’s why I don’t think there is cause for alarm:
- After being mediocre on the road for most of the year, the Thunder are poised to win their fifth straight away game in Portland.
- With Kevin Durant in the lineup this season, the team has won at a .767 clip—which projects out to a 63-win season
- Durant and Russell Westbrook are clearly at the peak of their powers, and are still on pace to be the most potent offensive duo ever, based on season-long PER.
- These games happen. Even the Spurs (one-point win at home over the Knicks) and Warriors (yielding 116 points to a Kings team they should have beaten by 30) have shown similar dips in their performance over the last few days.
- Billy Donavan hasn’t figured out his rotations, nor used all of his most effective lineups consistently, but he’s obviously not content to roll out the same combinations just because the team wins the game. He’s progressing, finding better spots for the better reserves more and more.
Basically, the Thunder are where I expected them to be approaching the halfway point of the season. They are mostly dominant, with the challenge to keep the defense solid and bench pieces optimized the biggest questions for Donavan to answer as the season rolls on. I didn’t expect him to have the green thumb that Steve Kerr did, and that’s fine. He doesn’t have to immediately become one of the league’s best coaches to contend; he needs the best team, which he just might have.
Where They At: Portland Trail Blazers
The Blazers are playing like they look on paper: a young, offensively talented roster without the experience or defensive chops to hang most nights. The Blazers make the fourth-most three pointers per game in the NBA, and have young guys up and down the roster that many teams would covet. The Damian Lillard/C.J. McCollum tandem is potent and a lot of fun to watch. After missing seven games, Lillard looked healthy again while dropping 40 in a losing effort to the Warriors Friday night.
There should be plenty of scoring in this one, especially from the Thunder. The Blazers matchup was a bummer last season, with Westbrook breaking his hand in one game and team suffering one of its worst meltdowns ever at home in another. The Thunder should take their third straight from the Blazers, further washing off the stink of last season.
Prediction: Thunder 118 Blazers 105
|2015-16 NBA Season Game #|
|January 8h, 2015|
|Moda Center, Portland|
|8 PM Central Standard Time|
|TV: Fox Sports Oklahoma, CSN Northwest, NBA League Pass|
|Injury Report: None|
|This Season's Matchups: Dec. 16 (W 106-90)|
|Russell Westbrook||PG||Damian Lillard|
|Andre Roberson||SG||CJ McCollum|
|Kevin Durant||SF||Al-Faruq Aminu|
|Serge Ibaka||PF||Noah Vonleh|
|Steven Adams||C||Mason Plumlee|