Game Details: Rose Garden, Portland, OR. 7:30 PM. TV: TNT. Radio: KXTG (95.5 FM)
Projected Portland Starting Lineup: PG Andre Miller (#24, 6′2″, Utah), SG Brandon Roy (#7, 6′6″, Washington), SF Nicolas Batum (#88, 6′8″, France), PF LaMarcus Aldridge (#12, 6′11″, Texas), C Marcus Camby (#23, 6′11″, UMass)
Projected Oklahoma City Starting Lineup: PG Russell Westbrook (#0, 6’3″, UCLA), SG Thabo Sefolosha (#2, 6’7″, Switzerland), SF Kevin Durant (#35, 6’9″, Texas), PF Jeff Green (#22, 6’9″, Georgetown), C Nenad Kristic (#12, 7’0″, Serbia)
A lot has been written about the Oklahoma City Thunder in the last couple years, with some even going as far as to anoint them the successors to the Lakers as the team to beat in the West. While the Thunder are certainly not there yet, they still present one of the more compelling matchups for the Blazers for a variety of reasons. Inevitably, anytime the Thunder come to town, a prominent topic of discussion is the Oden/Durant decision from 2007, but that’s been done to death, and frankly, I’m tired of talking about it.
The Thunder opened the season with a convincing win over the Bulls, and then squeaked one out over Detroit. Since then, though, they have looked confused and unfocused, getting blown out two consecutive games, first by the Jazz and then the Clippers last night. Kevin Durant has underperformed in both games, shooting 6 for 24 from the field against the Clippers. Don’t be surprised if he goes absolutely bananas tonight, taking his frustration with the last couple nights out on the team that passed on him in the draft. Game-planning for Durant is about as easy as game-planning for LeBron, and it will take everything the Blazers have to contain him.
Durant isn’t the only Thunder player who could potentially kill the Blazers. Russell Westbrook is having a phenomenal season, coming off his role on the gold-medal-winning Team USA, and he’s slowly sneaking into the discussion with the other elite point guards in the league. The Thunder are also a tough defensive team, with tough, physical players like Jeff Green and Thabo Sefolosha that won’t give anything up to the Blazers easily.
Nicolas Batum started the season strong, but something has been off the last two games. A team like Oklahoma City, with a scorer as potent as Durant, is going to require nothing short of Nic’s A-game, especially on the defensive end. Fabricio Oberto is out tonight with lightheadedness, so it’s crucial that Marcus Camby not get into foul trouble. LaMarcus Aldridge has made major strides in the last two games, and is looking like he might finally developing the offensive game fans hoped he would. With luck, this trend will continue tonight. The Blazers have a deeper bench than the Thunder, and Armon Johnson, Wesley Matthews, and Rudy Fernandez need to make Oklahoma City pay.
This may be the toughest game the Blazers have played so far this year. A division rival with similar playoff aspirations needing a bounceback game after a couple of poor performances isn’t going to be an easy win for the Blazers even with the Thunder on the second night of a back-to-back, especially given the fact that Durant will most certainly be extra-motivated against the team that didn’t draft him. This one could go down to the wire.