Time to chew on this Blazer fans: it’s February 9th, days away from the All-Star Break and the Oklahoma City Thunder are a game a 1/2 game in front of the Blazers in the Northwest Division. And that’s not even a diss to either team, just a fact of life. That’s one sentence I did not think I would be typing for a while, let alone this year. Seriously, if you had told me I’d be writing that sentence to open these pre-thoughts in the pre-season I would have asked you to discontinue speaking to me.
Unfortunately it is true, and the reality of the situation is that theThunder are for real a lot faster than anyone expected. They along with Memphis have turned into some of the best stories of this season. The Thunder may actually be one of the most entertaining teams in the league, on and off the court. If you have League Pass you know Oklahoma City ends up being one of your teams to watch subconsciously. They are a young team that just goes out and plays their butts off and has fun while doing it, how can you not like them? Also, they have a unique chemistry that I have not seen in the NBA in ages. Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, Russell Westbrook and James Harden are like the new 4 Horsemen on twitter, it’s unreal. Back to ‘on-the-corut’ talk they come into tonight’s contest having won 5 games in a row. I’m so used to cracking jokes during a Thunder preview that I almost did not know what to do with myself.
The leader of the pack? Durant. It’s rare I just let statistics do the talking, but in Durant’s case…I feel compelled to do it. He’s having an MVP-type season, bar none and if you disagree you have the basketball IQ of Gerald Green. Durant has scored 25 points in 24 straight games, three off Allen Iverson’s record 27. He’s averaging 29.7 points on the season, 7.3 rebounds, 3 assists and shoots 48.5% from the field…and that’s averaging 20 field goal attempts a game. Over the last 5 games he’s averaging 33.4 points, 7.4 rebounds, 50% from three, 94% from the free throw line (51-54). For the entire month of January, KD averaged 32 points a game, 8 rebounds, shot 51% from the field, 53% from three and almost 90% from the line. For a whole month. Pick your jaw up now.
(He’s also demolished the Durant vs. Oden argument for the time being. I’m serious, all I’ve got to debate is ‘We needed a big man’, ‘He got a lot better this year’ and whatever else I think of. I’ll always argue for Oden but holy crap when Durant is putting up those numbers and the only thing people have talked about Oden for this month is his dong…it becomes difficult to say much)
Right behind Durant is Russell Westbrook, who just happens to average 16 points, 7.5 assists, 5 rebounds and 1.2 steals a game. He almost had a quaduple-double the other night in case anyone was wondering. Jeff Green can consistently do a little bit of everything and is growing into the perfect sidekick for Durant. James Harden has the kind of versatility that fits right into this team as he just plays team ball and does a little bit of everything. He can score, he can shoot, he can create for others. Sensing a theme here with their top players? Surrounding them are role players. Thabo Sefolosha plays D, Collison/Krstic rebound and Kevin Ollie steals money. Zing.
The challenge for the Blazers is going to come on the defensive end. The Thunder don’t have the kind of front line that the Jazz and Lakers have so the danger is not getting punished like they did in those games. (Especially against LA…out-rebound 47-30…Lamar Odom had 8 less rebounds than our entire team.) The danger is on the perimeter, as they have a ton of skilled perimeter players. Not just trying to defend these guys one on one, but also the rotations behind them will be key. Obviously, Durant is going to cause problems. I think Batum is our only shot at defending him. Obviously there is no way he’s going 3-for-20 against us again. I worry about containing Westbrook in a pick and roll situation. Their last three losses came when they scored less than 100, so obviously if we can’t defend things might go sour.
Keys to the game
Render Durant inefficient: He’s scored 25 points or more in 24 straight games, there is no much containing him. Even when he went 3-for-20 against Portland in November he still got 16…so he’s going to score. Portland has to find a way to make it an inefficient 20 or 25. Much easier said than done, but we’ve got a shot if we make Durant inefficient.
Make Westbrook a scorer or creater: He can’t get 23 points and 8 assists. I’ll take a lot of points from him or a lot of assists, but a combination of both could prove lethal when he’s paired with Durant.Also….LET HIM SHOOT JUMPERS.
Win the battle of the boards: Gave up 14 offensive boards to this team in November and are just coming off a game where we got pounded on the glass. Can’t give them second shots.
Attack the basket: No need to settle against the Thunder. Get back into attack mode.
Shockingly, the Blazers are in a ‘we really need to win this game’ mode. I’ve already mentioned our struggles in Phoenix, so a home win will at least give us a shred of momentum going into the All-Star Break. This game could very well go either way, either a complete team victory or something that is the opposite of it.