UPDATE: Brandon Roy will not play tonight due to the bone bruise on his right knee, per the Blazers.
This is it. This is the game where it’s all the line. This is the one for all the marbles. This is the Game That Will Decide Our Fate. This is the Rumble to Avoid a Tumble. This is…for sixth place. I know that start was a little facetious and a bit douchy but I’m not getting too wrapped up in the drama of this one. Yes, obviously this game is a big one you don’t need me to tell you that. Two teams, deadlocked at 49-31, battling for playoff position in the second to last game of the season. The winner of this game will have the tiebreaker over the other and thus a major golden ticket for the #6 seed. However, considering the wild, unpredictable mess known as the 2-5 seeds in the Western Conference, I struggle to get too wrapped up in this one. Nobody knows what the #6 seed means right now. Nobody. It would be nice to finish strong and pick up a big win, but putting so much value into the standings will cause you a headache. Maybe it’s because yesterday’s game (and Coup) have convinced me that a ‘fall’ to 8 and a series with the Lakers may not be such a bad thing after all. If #6 means a face-off with the Jazz, I want the Blazers to lose this game by 30.
(That’s one of those jokes where you giggle a little afterward so everyone knows you’re joking but on the inside you’re dead serious)
The Thunder and Blazers are not strangers to one another. You know how and why these teams are linked right now. You also know their personnel. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Jeff Green with a little bit of James Harden’s Rick Ross beard and some Nick Collison on the side. The key to the game, obviously, is containing Kevin Durant. What more can you say about his season? In his past 5 games, he’s averaging 38.6 points, 9.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists, shooting 47.5% from the field with 13.2 free throw attempts. Or as like to call them….video game numbers. They have only one 2 of those 5 games, but who cares, that is a dangerous man right there. The key to this is rendering Durant inefficient, something Portland has done a pretty good job of doing this year. On the season Durant has averaged 30 points on 20 field goal attempts a game. Against Portland he’s averaging 26 points on 21 field goal attempts a game. He’s also shooting 34% against the Blazers, but there is a major outlier that is skewing the data, a 3/20 performance in November. Portland has to contest his jumpers, play good help defense and make him earn everything. They also have to make sure he does not get any help. In the Blazers 92-87 victory in OKC in late March, Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook both struggled to be efficient. There will need to be a repeat in that area.
The big story is Brandon Roy being out with a knee bruise. That just increases everyone’s responsibility to put the ball in the basket. Obviously Andre Miller and LaMarcus Aldridge are going to have to do some heavy lifting. Westbrook will want revenge on Miller for the last contest, or as I like to call it “Andre Miller taking Russell Westbrook to school” only because by the end of the game Westbrook had that same look on his face that kids have when they try and fake like their sick and their parents take them to school anyways. I applaud Nate and Andre and the rest of the team for getting LaMarcus the ball. Without Roy yesterday, the ball was going into LMA in the post. It was like watching the LaMarcus we all thought he could be…except he was actually doing it. With Jeff Green I’d like to see more low-post action than mid-post action, because Green has the length and athleticism to force LaMarcus into some tough jumpshots. As always, we will be as good as Rudy, Martell and Jerryd are. Yesterday their play was the story of the game. Each guy had a key moment in a low scoring game, hitting big shots that had they missed, we’re probably talking about a tough loss yesterday. Their value is incredible especially with #7 on the sidelines. The one thing I noticed from the Laker game was they played with more confidence, aggression and swagger than before. Perhaps it was knowing they had to go out and do it, because a player’s mindset is different when they have no other choice but to perform because they aren’t coming out. I’ll definitely be monitoring them.
Look for this one to be another playoff-type game and atmosphere. And all signs are pointing to another grind it out, 48 minute slugfest. The Blazers have got to keep finding ways to execute in these types of games. Yesterday, for the most part they did. Against Dallas they didn’t. A couple weeks ago against OKC they did. No need to panic, just play. The POR/OKC season series has been anything but pretty, look at the scores for the 3 previous games: 83-74, 77-89, 92-87. We’ve held OKC to under 90 each game which is impressive considering their talent level. If you’re a Blazer fan you would like the trend to continue: Oklahoma City is a mere 3-9 when they score less than 90 points. The big story of late has been Portland’s improved defense thanks to Marcus Camby. There will be a need for a lot of talk and help on Mr. Durant, we’ll see how it holds up.
You know the score and you know what’s on the line. Portland is coming off an emotionally high win yesterday over the Lakers. OKC is coming off a emotionally hurtful loss against the Warriors. As corny and cliche as it sounds, this game is coming down to who wants it more. OKC will be looking to bounce back and I’d expect them to come out hard and determined out of the gates. Let’s not forget this same OKC team jumped on Portland 14-2 back in February…the game after a tough loss to the Lakers. Portland needs the energy, focus and determination of a playoff team if they want to win this one. And you know…GET THAT SIX SEED! Or 50 wins, whatever is your flavor.
Topics: Andre Miller, Blazers Thunder, Brandon Roy, Brandon Roy Out, Jeff Green, Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge, Martell Webster, Nic Batum, Oklahoma City Thunder, Portland Trail Blazers, Rudy Fernandez, Russell Westbrook