Time: 9:30PM CST
Location: Moda Center, Portland
Broadcast: ESPN, FSOK
Counterpart: Blazers Edge
The Thunder travel to the great northwest tonight to take on the Trail Blazers in a key divisional matchup. While OKC is holding fast behind the Nuggets so far this season, some may miss that Portland is consistent as well currently sitting at 5th in the quagmire that is the Western Conference.
The Thunder are coming off a, to be charitable, uneven performance against Lakers, who were without LeBron James and Rajon Rondo. Hardly anyone outside of Paul George and Abdel Nader could make open shots. While that can still spell success against the Lakers, it will be another story against a Portland team that typically excels at shotmaking, behind their power trio of Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, and Jusuf Nurkic.
On top of that, OKC has been in a years-long funk against the red and black. Last year, they were swept by Portland 4-0. In the year before that, they lost the regular season 3-1, and on top of that, as many are noting now, have not had success against their division rivals since 2014.
The last time the Thunder beat the Trail Blazers in Portland, Steven Adams and Andre Roberson were rookies. Scott Brooks still had another year to look forward to as head coach. OKC was en route to a trip to the Western Conference Finals.
The last time the Thunder won in Portland was Feb. 11, 2014. On Friday, the team returns to the arena that has deprived them of a win for so long.
Given that OKC and Portland will likely be duking it out for playoff positioning all season long, here’s to hoping the Thunder see this game as the critical benchmark that it is.
The biggest area of concern of course is Russell Westbrook’s continued shooting woes. And against a deep ball threat like Lillard, who can also get to the rim and earn trips to the free throw line, another sub 25% shooting game by Russ could do his team in. But Westbrook’s advantage — size and strength — can be found if he works more out of the post while letting Paul George and others run the offense.
The other wild card is Steven Adams’ defense against Nurkic. Adams, like most bigs, struggle against big men who can step out and shoot from the perimeter. It will be interesting to see if OKC yields Nurkic’s perimeter opportunities to keep him out of the lane and creating scoring opportunities for himself and others.
The area where OKC does have a leg up, both in the current year as well as over past teams, is in their bench play. The Thunder bench has stepped up, particularly in 4th quarters, to help get them over the hump when shots aren’t falling. If Dennis Schroder can find a little more consistency, the consistent performances by Nerlens Noel, Patrick Patterson, and as of late Nader, could spell the difference in Portland tonight.
Who do you think will win tonight?
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