This afternoon, the Oklahoma City Thunder seek to extend recent momentum against a visiting Portland Trail Blazers squad.
Friday night, facing a fourth-straight loss, Oklahoma City responded with palpable urgency to overturn a rugged Memphis offering. Led by the critical performances of Joffrey Lauvergne and Anthony Morrow, OKC's reserves bolstered Russell Westbrook’s game-clenching heroics.
Already synonymous with crunch-time dominance, opposite an elite defense, Westbrook levitated for 17 unanswered points as 2:34 remained to give the Thunder victory, 114-102.
Following Oklahoma City’s rousing comeback, Chesapeake Energy Arena erupted in frenzied unison for their home-town heroes.
However, in the wake of such heightened emotions, it is vital that both the Thunder and OKC Nation not come out flat during Sunday's rematch vs. underachieving Portland.
For though this season the Trail Blazers have failed to capitalize upon recent playoff successes, Terry Stotts’ crew boasts a lopsided 114-95 Dec. 13 mastery of Oklahoma City.
Opposite OKC, Portland controlled the paint, outscoring the Thunder 54-38 inside. As Westbrook (20 pts) and company floundered (37/29/75 split), the Blazers placed six players in double-figure scoring to punctuate a runaway affair.
Sunday afternoon, Steven Adams and a depleted OKC front-line mustn't allow Portland’s bigs to replicate earlier interior hegemony. All the while, it behooves Oklahoma City’s perimeter defense to remain constantly aware of Portland’s high-octane backcourt.
- Oklahoma City Thunder (29-22, #7 West) vs. Portland Trail Blazers (22-29 #9 West)
- Time: 3 PM ET
- Venue: Chesapeake Energy Arena
- TV: FSOK
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER KEYS TO VICTORY
- Avoid an empty performance after Friday’s big win
- Defend the paint
- Keep Lillard and McCollum in check
- Mr. Westbrook plays under control
- Mr. Oladipo breaks free from slump
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
It is no secret that the Thunder has struggled since Enes Kanter’s forearm injury. However, Friday night’s cathartic win vs. an intent Memphis offering brought an edgy Thunder Nation a sigh of relief. Though, admittedly the amount of effort Russ poured into that victory was concerning.
While Westbrook has authored a once-in-a-generation type season, he cannot be expected to produce such transcendent results on a nightly basis.
When considering the law of averages — and difficult matchups — a total team effort will be required for the Thunder to avenge a humiliating mid-Dec. setback to Portland.
PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
Though the celebrated duo of Lillard (25.9 ppg) and McCollum (23.5 ppg) pose a consistent offensive threat, this season the Trail Blazers’ defense and rebounding has been among the league’s worst.
For this reason, the sub-.500 Blazers field no All-Stars in February’s mid-year showcase.
That stated, the old adage of “styles make fights” rings true for Portland vs. Oklahoma City. On whole, OKC may find the Blazers’ bevy of potential scoring options to be a dilemma — especially if Portland opens the floodgates from deep.
Also of note: Minus Victor Oladipo, the Trail Blazers outscored Oklahoma City 17-8 in transition on Dec. 13.
When considering all of these key factors, OKC must bring a maximum effort against tricky Portland.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS/INJURY REPORTS
The Oklahoma City Thunder list Enes Kanter (Forearm) as out. Alex Abrines (Back Spasms) practiced with the team Saturday, but is listed as questionable. Meanwhile, the Portland Trail Blazers have no injuries to report, though Ed Davis (wrist) only recently returned to the lineup.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
- Point Guard: Russell Westbrook
- Shooting Guard: Victor Oladipo
- Small Forward: Andre Roberson
- Power Forward: Domantas Sabonis
- Center: Steven Adams
PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
- Point Guard: Damian Lillard
- Shooting Guard: C.J. McCollum
- Small Forward: Maurice Harkless
- Power Forward: Noah Vonleh
- Center: Mason Plumlee
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER: -4
The Oklahoma City Thunder is a moderate favorite heading into Sunday’s tilt with Portland. The Blazers recently dropped a 108-104 home contest against the Yogi Ferrell led Dallas Mavericks.
Sunday’s matchup to watch will be Westbrook/Oladipo vs. Lillard/McCollum. Oladipo’s two-way production will play a major factor in OKC’s bid for success.
The Thunder is ranked 20th (104.1) in OffRtg and 8th (104.6) in DefRtg. Portland sports the NBA’s #12 (106.7) OffRtg and #25 DefRtg (108.7).
Oklahoma City’s home record stands at 17-7. Portland is 8-18 on the road.
This afternoon’s contest will mark the first of another back-to-back set for the Thunder.