Oklahoma City will play Portland for the third time this season and will be looking to get a win against the Blazers for the first time. Oklahoma City are currently 0-2 against the Blazers with the last game being a blow-out loss for the Thunder. The Thunder have three of their last four games with the sole loss coming against Indiana in crunch time. Oklahoma City will be looking to carry this momentum into the Moda Centre. The game starts at 9:00 (EST) and it presents an opportunity for Portland to put their loss against the Lakers behind them. The Blazers were smacked by Los Angeles as they lost by twenty three on their home floor with CJ McCollum having a quiet game compared to his usual production. The Blazers sit two places back from the Thunder in the Western Conference standings and a win for either side would get them into the race for eighth place.
Three Points to note for the Thunder:
- Free Throws - Oklahoma City were effective from the line against the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Thunder took forty free throws and made thirty six attempts, this was a 90% clip for the game on unusually high volume. The Thunder will not usually get this many free throws attempts but the T-Wolves were foul-happy on the night which meant that the Thunder got into the penalty early in the third quarter and turned the game into a foul-shooting contest. For OKC, it was important to get points from the line as the defence totally gave up in the third quarter and Minnesota scored thirty nine points behind Jeff Teague’s offensive explosion. The Thunder should look to get to the line more as there is a strong group of foul shooters on the team who can consistently knock down looks from the stripe. Gallinari and Paul are the two stand-out free throw shooters for the Thunder as they knock down foul shots at 92.1% and 89.5% respectively. These numbers would suggest that the Thunder need to drive more and create contact with the defence if Oklahoma City want to make their offensive scheming more efficient.
- Late Game Execution - Oklahoma City were exceptional in over-time as they out-scored Minnesota 17-5. Shai Gilgeous Alexander was huge in getting to his spots and making shots, the offence went through SGA in over-time and he produced consistently as he scored nine points. The win was incredibly hard-fought and hugely entertaining but it does gloss over the Thunder’s weaknesses at the end of regulation. The coaching staff made two distinct errors at the end of the game which meant that the team needed a lot of luck to push the game to OT. The first error occurred after Luguentz Dort got a crucial stop and the Thunder drew up a play to get a score which would conclude the game. Oklahoma City was down two and they needed a three-point look to win the game, this was the natural shot to take in this circumstance as the Thunder had suitable personnel on the floor to knock down this type of shot and the Thunder have enough time left on the clock to run an action. The reality was different as the Thunder abandoned their motion offence in favour of an isolation line drive by Chris Paul which resulted in a miss. It makes no sense for the Thunder’s staff to draw up a two-point look when a three is needed to win the game especially when Minnesota had built a good head steam towards the end of the game. Billy Donovan did not draw up a situation where the Thunder had control of the game, he drew up a situation where the Thunder needed luck to win. Oklahoma City would not have won if they did not get a bizarre technical free throw, poor shooting at the line by Minnesota and Adams throwing the perfect Hail Mary touchdown pass. The other issue for the Thunder came positioning players for a defensive rebound during Jordan Bell’s free throws. Bell shoots 55% from the stripe and it is likely he will miss one of these looks. Donovan needs to be aware that the Thunder need to secure a defensive rebound in order to kill Minnesota’s possession of the ball. Billy chose to put two smalls on the lane line which allowed Josh Okogie to reach over the top and get an offensive rebound. This extended Minnesota’s possession and wasted more time off the clock.
- Adams’ Feast - Adams has been dominant over the last few games and he has a chance to extend this good run of play against the Trailblazers. The Blazers’ centre rotation has been ravaged over this season with Nurkic and Collins both being unavailable until the new year. This has meant that their big man depth off the bench is weak and forwards like Skal Labissiere and Anthony Tolliver are having to play up a position. Both players give up a height and weight difference which Steve can use to his advantage. Adams can simply shoot over the top of Tolliver using his flip-shot and can body Labissiere’s thin, skinny frame. It would be smart for the Thunder to get Adams minutes against the Portland reserves as he will be able to feast.
- Rodney Hood - Rodney Hood suffered an Achilles tear on his tendon against the Los Angeles Lakers the other night. Hood’s injury will likely keep him out for a year and will be a massive blow for the Blazers who need Hood’s two-way ability to stabilise the starting line-ups defence. Hood’s injury is serious and can end a career, I wish Hood well with his recovery and hopefully he can come back better than ever.
- Carmelo - Carmelo has been big for the Blazers in his return to basketball. Anthony’s conditioning has looked much improved compared to his previous stops in Houston and Oklahoma City. His improved fitness has meant that Carmelo has been an efficient scorer for the Blazers who need another scoring threat outside of Lillard and McCollum. The other benefit from Anthony being in better shape is that he has been more engaged on the defensive end of the floor. By no stretch of the imagination is Anthony a quality defender but he has actually put effort in on defence.
Lu Dort was rewarded with spot minutes after his strong play in the G-League. Dort has averaged 22/6/3 for the Blue and has warranted a call-up to the senior side. The perfect storm had to occur for Dort to get his chance at rotation minutes. Terrance Ferguson was ruled out due to injury, Diallo is rehabbing an injury and Deonte Burton was suspended due to conduct detrimental to the team. The Thunder organisation has also announced that Burton will return to the G-League which gives Dort a chance to establish himself within the Thunder set-up. Dort was economical with the ball and did not make any rash decisions against Minnesota the other night, he simply played his role well. Lu did not over-extend his game and played within himself which eventually resulted in Dort getting a crucial stop at the end of the game. Dort will need time to get adjusted to the speed and pace of the NBA game and the Thunder should not rush his development. I think it would be wise for Dort to get spot minutes for the Thunder so that he can get comfortable with the transition from college to the league.