This evening, the Oklahoma City Thunder begin a three-game in four-night road trek vs. a fading Portland Trail Blazers squad.
More so, from Portland’s Moda Center, Oklahoma City’s rebuilt roster will seek its fifth-consecutive win.
Conversely, the home-standing Trail Blazers’ primary objective becomes an effort to rescue its diminishing playoff hopes.
With 23 games remaining, Coach Terry Stotts’ crew has lost five of six, and finds itself three games behind eighth-seeded Denver.
Pursuant to last spring’s unforgettable post-season run, this campaign the Blazers’ ineptitude has outweighed Damian Lillard (26 ppg, 22.5 PER), and C.J. McCollum’s (23.3 ppg, 48/41/89 split) offensive firepower.
Simply put: Portland is rather barren excluding its potent backcourt.
The Blazers rank #26 (108.9) in DefRtg, and receive scant frontcourt/reserve aid.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma City’s 35-25 record defies majority pre-season expectation.
Amid an unbeaten four-game run, OKC wields a plus-ten (113.5/103.5) point differential versus downed opponents. Much of this success comes in direct relation to Russell Westbrook’s amplified (34 ppg, 13 reb, 12 ast, 45/44/84 split, 11 FTA) performances.
Furthermore, standout-rookie Alex Abrines’ 14.3 ppg, and 51/52/100 split while gracing the starting lineup greatly reduces Westbrook’s load —and creates floor spacing.
Tonight’s contest marks Oklahoma City’s third seasonal meeting opposite Portland. The Trail Blazers dominated the teams’ initial 16-17’ rendezvous, 114-95.
In that setback, Russell Westbrook was limited to just 20 points on 7-of-19 shooting. The victorious Blazers were led by now traded Mason Plumlee’s 18 points and seven rebounds.
When the Northwest division rivals re-matched Feb 5, Oklahoma City gained retribution behind Westbrook’s 42 point (19 in fourth) eruption.
However, that evening, OKC needed a final-period surge (34-26) to overcome struggling Portland.
For this reason, tonight’s potential outcome should prove closer than recent records and statistics suggest.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER (35-25 #7 west) vs. PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS (24-35 #11 west)
- Time: 10:30 PM ET
- Venue: Moda Center, Portland, Oregon
- TV: TNT
Oklahoma City Thunder keys to victory
- Continue perimeter-shooting success, but don’t become too reliant on the three.
- Use decided statistical rebounding advantage vs. Portland.
- Hold Lillard/McCollum in check while also limiting their supporting cast
- One game at a time: Do not fall victim to looking ahead at a trying three-game in four nights schedule.
- Continue to integrate new pieces and provide Westbrook with floor spacing
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
Oklahoma City’s play of late is indicative of a team harboring a greater purpose in mind. That stated, tonight’s contest shouldn’t be allowed to devolve into a “trap game.”
In OKC’s last outing, to open against Utah, the Thunder connected on twelve-straight three-point baskets. It appears both Abrines’ ascension, combined with the acquisition of Doug McDermott, has unearthed new offensive options for Billy Donovan’s men.
And finally, throughout Oklahoma City’s winning streak, a cadre of vital reserves have stepped to the forefront. This depth will be needed tonight opposite a desperate Portland iteration.
PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
For last year’s post-season surprise, time, as mentioned, is running out on an opportunity to return to that celebrated stage.
Unfortunately, Portland’s decision to swap interior cog Mason Plumlee for talented youngster Jusuf Nurkic has not yielded dividends of success (1-4 record since). In all regards, this has been a season to forget for the underachieving Blazers.
While Portland does present certain matchup problems for OKC, momentum clearly does not favor Stotts’ bunch heading into this encounter.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUPS/INJURY REPORTS
The Oklahoma City Thunder has downgraded Victor Oladipo (Back) from questionable, to “out” as of March 1. The Portland Trail Blazers list Ed Davis (Shoulder), and Evan Turner (Hand) as out vs. Oklahoma City.
Oklahoma City Thunder
- Point Guard: Russell Westbrook
- Shooting Guard: Alex Abrines/Victor Oladipo
- Small Forward: Andre Roberson
- Power Forward: Domantas Sabonis/Taj Gibson
- Center: Steven Adams
Portland Trail Blazers
- Point Guard: Damian Lillard
- Shooting Guard: CJ McCollum
- Small Forward: Maurice Harkless
- Power Forward: Noah Vonleh
- Center: Jusuf Nurkic
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER: +1.5
Due to Portland’s (14-13) home record and urgency, combined with Oklahoma City’s disappointing (12-17) road record and propensity for close contests, the Vegas oddsmakers list the Blazers as a slight favorite.
Tonight’s key matchup pits Russell Westbrook against Damian Lillard. Minus Oladipo, OKC has no strategic ally in hiding Westbrook on an inferior offensive target. Therefore, a one-on-one matchup is likely to occur between these high-scoring floor generals.
Further, if the contest is close-fought, Westbrook’s finishing prowess may be slightly affected from chasing Lillard most of the night.
A surprise Oladipo return (assuming he’s at least 80%) greatly enhances OKC’s defensive outlook.
Overall, Portland ranks #13 (106.5) in OffRtg and 26th (108.9) in DefRtg. The Oklahoma City Thunder are the NBA’s 20th-ranked offensive unit (104.4) and place 9th defensively (104.9).
The Thunder is 7-3 vs. division foes. Meanwhile, Portland sports a 5-3 record against Northwest Division competition.