For the second time in this young season, the Blazers face a top-tier conference rival coming off a disappointing loss with a lot of pressing questions to address. At the very least, Portland should have some confidence knowing that they are once again not the team facing enormous pressure to perform.
Blazers Starting 5: PG Damian Lillard, SG Wesley Matthews, SF Nicolas Batum, PF LaMarcus Aldridge, C J.J. Hickson
Thunder Starting 5: PG Russell Westbrook, SG Thabo Sefolosha, SF Kevin Durant, PF Serge Ibaka, C Kendrick Perkins
I might be in the minority here, but I feel like this Thunder roster matches up pretty well with what Portland has. There are going to be a lot of cross defensive match-ups with Wesley Matthews likely spending some time defending Russell Westbrook and the possibility of Thabo Sefolosha checking Damian Lillard in an effort to keep him going to the hoop, but for the most part there isn’t a major area where OKC is head and shoulders above the Blazers.
The Lakers towered over Portland’s bigs, but Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins are not Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard. Ibaka and Perkins are a great tandem, but they’re not the offensive juggernaut that the Lakers have inside.
The key for Portland to have a chance in this one will be keeping Kevin Durant outside of the paint, making OKC run a lot of half court sets, and limiting second-chance points. It’s my feeling that the Thunder will want to get out and run in this game as much as possible, by taking high percentage shots and attacking the offensive glass, the Blazers should be able to limit OKC’s ability to run. It’s a tall order, for sure, but if this gets into a running match, Portland doesn’t really stand a chance.
What to Watch For
- Every night is going to be a new test for Damian Lillard for at least the first month or so. Tonight’s match-up with Russell Westbrook is going to be the trial by fire Steve Nash wasn’t. Following such a historic debut, it’s safe to say Lillard confidence is through the roof. He’ll need every drop of that confidence because he’s going to have a rough night staying with Westbrook. If it were up to me, I would lighten Lillard’s load by letting Wesley Matthews take Russ on a few defensive possessions. Damian is going to have such a physical battle when he has the ball that it seems a little foolhardy to beat him up on both ends. I’m guessing Lillard has a good night, he’s that good and his cruising right now, but it’s going to take a lot of work.
- Oklahoma City’s bench is reeling a little right now without James Harden. The spotlight will be on them for a second night in a row. Portland’s bench is, as we know, not great. That being said, if there is a match-up I really think the Blazers can exploit it is Meyers Leonard versus Hasheem Thabeet. Thabeet played 12 minutes in OKC’s opener. When he and Meyers are on the court at the same time, Portland needs to find their rookie center as often as possible. Leonard doesn’t have a ton of low post moves just yet, but he has the speed to get past Thabeet and he’s a good free throw shooter.
- The pressure is on OKC right now. If Portland can get any kind of lead, especially late, it will be interesting to see if Westbrook goes into hero mode. If that happens, there’s a 50-50 chance it ends poorly for the Thunder.
- LaMarcus Aldridge started like gang busters in Portland’s opener, then faded down the stretch. Let’s see if he can maintain his pace in game two.
- Will Portland remember that this team is beatable, mostly because they have a tendency to forget the basics in crunch time. Just watch Russell Westbrook on last night’s final play.