Time: 7PM CST
Location: Chesapeake Arena, OKC
Counterpart: Blazers Edge
The Thunder welcome the Trail Blazers to the ‘Peake tonight to play the second game in their regular season series. In their first game, the Thunder came out with a big 2-point win, ending years of futility in Portland’s home arena.
Due to OKC’s recent slide in the standings following a number of slip-ups to lottery teams, the two teams are virtually tied in the standings now. Whoever comes out on top tonight will claim the #3 spot in the West, behind the surging Warriors and the stalwart Nuggets. But while OKC has indeed struggled, their big win in Philadelphia this past weekend points toward a team that knows how to focus against the better teams in the league, and they will need that tonight as Portland looks to even the regular season series.
Three things stood out to me in the Thunder’s earlier season win:
- Portland’s (very) big man Jusuf Nurkic was dominating the paint during much of the first half, primarily because OKC’s pick and roll defense was giving the passer way too much space to make easy passes on the roll, giving him deep post position against Steven Adams & Co. While the Thunder cleaned that up just enough in the second half, the PnR defense has been largely suspect over the past 3 weeks (Philly’s base offense doesn’t rely on PnR sets as much as many other teams), and so once again their defensive sore point will be on display.
- The Thunder did a great job defending against Portland’s back court of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, limiting them to shooting a collective 32% from the floor and 3-14 from 3-point range. No matter what Nurkic does on the inside, this focus should remain if OKC wants to have success again tonight.
- The Thunder bench actually had some reasonable success in leading the Thunder back into this game. While Dennis Schroder struggled with his shot, it was the combination of Nerlens Noel and Patrick Patterson on both ends that helped tip the scales. Noel in particular was a key element to defending the Portland shooters.
Who do you think will win tonight?
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