Start time - 9:00 p.m. (CT)
Broadcaster - Bally Sports Oklahoma
Oklahoma City’s last game against the Dallas Mavericks was another impressive team performance. Josh Giddey again precisely ran the offense and kept the Thunder’s engine ticking but the glory on the night was reserved for two players.
Tre Mann scored 29 points on efficient scoring and was a reliable bucket for the Thunder every single time down the floor. Mann was taken by Presti in the 2021 NBA Draft with the idea of Tre being the team’s spark plug off the bench.
Mann was a professional scorer at Florida State and those skills have finally started to carry over into the NBA. Mann did not immediately impress for the Thunder but his performances have improved steadily over the last few months.
His deep shooting, 39% on the season, has meant that he has been one of the best marksman on the Thunder all season long. The difference in recent weeks is his progression as a ball-handler.
Mann’s handle and footwork allows him to create so much space but in the first month of the season, his decision-making would be a little off. There would be times when Tre would step-back on a 3-point attempt despite having an open driving lane to the rim. He has been better at attacking space and trusting himself to finish among the forest of limbs.
Luguentz Dort had a great performance against the Portland Trailblazers on Monday night and again delivered the goods against the Mavericks. Dort has not played well for a month but finally seems to be finding his rhythm again. He was a driving force for the Thunder in overtime.
With Shai out, Dort took on the role of being the Thunder’s closer. Closing games can be quite a burden; Lu was responsible for maximising each possession in whatever way possible. Any mistakes could have cost the Thunder the game.
Dort was cool under pressure and scored 14 priceless points for the Thunder when it mattered most. His evolution as an offensive player is unlike anything I have seen in my time covering the Thunder. Dort has shown a real aptitude for understanding defenses and working out where he can get his points. His 6 free throws in overtime made all the difference for OKC.
While things are looking up for the Thunder, Portland’s future is murky and uncertain. The Blazers have lost three games straight with the last loss coming against the LeBron-less Lakers. Los Angeles have proven to be a frail, soft team without James and yet Portland could not capitalise.
Joe Cronin, the Portland GM, recently spoke to the media and struck a defiant tone about the team’s future but the writing is on the wall. This year without Dame is effectively a gap year, a chance to rebuild and replenish but it is hard to see how this year drastically affects Portland’s chances of winning next year.
The Blazers currently have $85m tied up in Norman Powell, CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard. All three players are in their prime years but their value has decreased somewhat. Lillard’s contract is hard to move due to his recent injury history and the sheer size of a supermax.
CJ McCollum is not playing to his level and seems resigned to the idea of leaving the Portland Trailblazers. He is earning $30m a year and his production does not currently warrant such a salary. Philly may get trigger-happy and move Simmons but I think Daryl Morey has learned his lesson from the Harden debacle and will hold his stance until a good offer comes onto the table.
Anfernee Simons has emerged as a promising young player but he hits free agency this year and the Blazers may be priced out of the market if they want to keep Jusuf Nurkic and Robert Covington as well. It will take cap gymnastics to keep all three players on the roster without bouncing off the hard cap.
Portland are weak on the court and organisationally at the moment. Neil Olshey built around Lillard and in Lillard’s absence, the team has scuffled. Joe Cronin, the current GM, does not have the capital or stature to make wholesale changes as he is the interim. All of this means that the Blazers are persisting with sieve-like lineups and disgruntled players. This is a game the Thunder should win.