Blazers: 14-10 (4th Northwest Division)
Thunder: 18-5 (1st Northwest Division)
Game Details: Rose Garden Arena, Portland, OR. 7:00 PM. TV: CSN. Radio: 750 AM (KXTG)
Projected Blazer Starting Lineup: PG Jamal Crawford (#11, 6’5’’, Michigan), SG Wesley Matthews (#2, 6’5’’, Marquette), SF Gerald Wallace (#3, 6’7’’, Alabama), PF LaMarcus Aldridge (#12, 6’11’’, Texas), C Marcus Camby (#23, 6’11’’, Massachusetts)
Projected Thunder Starting Lineup: PG Russell Westbrook (#0, 6’3”, UCLA), SG Daequan Cook (#14, 6’5”, Ohio State), SF Kevin Durant (#35, 6’9”, Texas), PF Serge Ibaka (#9, 6’10”, Ricoh Manresa, Congo), C Kendrick Perkins (#5, 6’10”, Clifton J. Ozen HS)
OK, this is a big one. Let’s put aside for a minute all the things we know that are wrong with the way this team has played as a whole this season–and by that I of course mean losing on the road–and look at this game as an individual occurrence, divorced from any game that came before it and any game that will come after it.
Oklahoma City is the best team in West, and might have the opportunity at the end of this season to play for the right to be the best team in the league. Portland has been basically unbeatable at home, stretching their streak of wins at the Rose Garden by 20+ to three. The formula is there for a titanic match-up. The formula is there for the Blazers to prove that it’s the road losses that are anomalous and not the home victories. The formula is there for Portland to establish itself as better than sixth in the Western Conference.
And here’s the thing the Blazers have: a blueprint of how to beat this very talented and deep Oklahoma City Thunder team. Back on January 3rd, Portland handed OKC their only home loss of the season basically the Blazers’ only meaningful road win. Portland beat the the Thunder in their building by doing a couple things, playing defense, and making OKC play defense.
The Thunder have a high powered offense led by Kevin Durant, if you can turn him around, and make him work on the defensive end, it limits his ability to beat you by shooting you out of the building. That was the make them play defense part. The playing defense part included holding the Thunder to 25% from three, and keeping them under 100 points for the game.
Sometimes big wins aren’t worth watching a second time on tape. A team can get obsessed with seeing themselves succeed and forget to find the flaws in their game, failing to improve. Nobody plays a perfect game. That being said, Portland’s January game against OKC is a pretty good tape to hold on to, not just because it shows that this team can indeed win on the road. If the Blazers play close to or exactly the way they did in that win they’ll have a pretty good shot at taking this game. If they don’t, it’s all up in the air.
Here are a couple things to watch for:
- Three-point shooting: Portland ran Denver out of the gym from behind the arc. The Blazers attempted 33 threes and hit 15. This team has shooters, but they aren’t really a team built to kill from downtown. If Portland gets hot they should shoot, that’s a no brainer, but they need to work the ball inside first before falling in love with the deep ball. One of the things the Blazers did in their win at Oklahoma City was get the Thunder bigs in early foul trouble. You don’t do that by bombing from 30-feet. However, I do think guys like Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum are going to look to shoot early. That’s good because it will give LaMarcus Aldridge a chance to work some one-on-one against a couple of guys that can’t defend him by themselves.
- Can Portland make Russell Westbrook turn the ball over: Regardless of where you put him on your list, you have to admit that Westbrook is very very good. What Portland can do is try to make Russ play outside of himself and turn the ball over. He doesn’t need a ton of help, but the Blazers defensive scheme should be to help Russell help them by getting out of control, making bad decisions, and turning the ball over.
- Bench play: With Raymond Felton out and Jamal Crawford in the starting lineup, a bit of Portland’s punch is gone from the bench. Elliot Williams might get Jamal’s bench minutes, Nolan Smith might, somebody else might too. Getting production from the third guard spot is going to be key. Also, when Russell Westbrook is on the court against against Portland’s second string, keeping him from going buck wild is also key. The bench match-up will probably be the difference maker in this one.
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