Blazers: 23-26 (5th Northwest Division)
Thunder: 37-12 (1st Northwest Division)
Game Details: Rose Garden Arena Portland, OR. TV: KGW. Radio: 750 AM (KXTG)
Projected Blazer Lineup: PG Nolan Smith (#4, 6’2”, Duke), SG Wesley Matthews (#2, 6’5”, Marquette), SF Nicolas Batum (#88, 6’8”, MSB Le Mans, France), PF LaMarcus Aldridge (#12, 6’11”, Texas). C Joel Przybilla (#10. 7’1”, Minnesota)
Projected Thunder Starting Lineup: PG Russell Westbrook (#0, 6’3”, UCLA), SG Tahbo Sefolosha (#2, 6’7”, Angelico Biella, Switzerland), 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)
While cobbling together this preview for Portland’s fourth and final match-up with the best team in the Western Conference, I had the chance to review the preview I wrote a million years ago (February 6th) for the Blazers’ last home match-up with the Thunder. A game that Matt Calkins very accurately labeled as the game that hastened the demise of the Portland Trail Blazers version 2011-12.
Back then, the Blazers were 14-10, struggling but looking bright at home (they’d demolished three straight visiting opponents). Oklahoma City was Oklahoma City: good, verging on great, rounding the bend on untouchable. I won’t do myself the favor of linking that preview. We all know how that game went.
So here we are, a month and a half later (give or take), an even 25 games later, and we have a game to watch. The Blazers nipped at the Thunder nine days ago in Oklahoma City, Kaleb Canales’s highly anticipated second game as a head coach, before ultimately losing by 16. Since then OKC hung 149 on Minnesota (a game in which they also surrendered 140), and walloped their potential Finals date the Miami Heat.
Oklahoma City has lost too, to Utah, but to say that this Thunder team is vulnerable against a team like Portland is either an under valuation of OKC or an over valuation of the Blazers. Either way it’s wrong. To win, Portland will have to play a flawless game. And even that might not get the job done.
Which brings us to why this game will finally be the perfect game to test out all those theories about tanking. And by all those theories I basically mean the theory that fans will buy into tanking if it means a pay-off in the long term. I’ll get on board with the idea of a fan base cheering a long-term payoff, but it’s the short-term that an organization like the Blazers should worry about.
By short-term I obviously mean tonight. Let me explain. For a lot of Portland fans, there is still a glimmer of hope for this season, that’s just kind of the way this fan base rolls. A win tonight would increase Playoff chances (it makes me a bit sick just writing that) and would be a huge boost emotionally and psychologically.
Getting that win is also highly unlikely. So, Tuesday night might be a good chance to test some of those younger players, maybe see if Jonny Flynn is the next Jeremy Lin (?), maybe see if Hasheem Thabeet can actually dunk. This game is basically a loss before it starts anyway, why not use it as a chance to get some run for the end of the bench?
This is the problem. Portland fans are not going to appreciate watching their team get absolutely demolished at home when they decide to not compete, even if they circulate flyers all night explaining in detail how a loss tonight means 50 wins in three seasons.
I know the team shouldn’t be playing to the whims of the fans, but it is the fans that buy the tickets, and ticket sales that provide fuel for the ship that is the Portland Trail Blazers.
In summation, a win is bad because it screws up the whole “losing on purpose today, drafting a blue chipper tomorrow” plan that Internet speculation seems to think is the best path for every team not making the Playoffs, a loss is bad because it pisses off the fans, which hurts the product.
It’s a tough position. Unless you flip it, and think about it like this: A win is good, because win’s are good. A loss is good because of the tanking thing, draft picks, etc.
Pick a side. There will be plenty of opinions to choose from when tonight’s game is over, and it’s always good to have your argument well prepared, rehearsed, and broken down into 140 character increments.
Here’s a couple things I’ll be paying attention to:
- Nolan Smith: Nolan is getting the starting nod since Raymond Felton will be missing Tuesday night for personal reasons. It will be Smith’s first start as a pro. Should he be a capable substitute for some other as yet unnamed starting point guard, tonight is the night to show it. Russell Westbrook will be able to dominate him on offense, should coach Canales choose to make him defend his position, and should give him fits with his defense. There’s no better way to prove your worth than by jumping in head first to the point guard ring.
- Can Portland defend this team: Not many have proved capable. Coach Canales has stressed defense as being the focus of the coaching staff. Like Nolan and the whole starting point guard thing, you want to play good defense, start by playing against one of the best offenses in the league.
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