Tonight, at Chesapeake Energy Arena, another exciting Northwest Division showdown between the Portland Trail Blazers (24-7) and the Oklahoma City Thunder (25-5) will commence. After a 111-104 loss in Portland earlier this month, the Thunder will look to defend home court and continue their ride atop the Western Conference.
The Trail Blazers lost yet another close game last night in New Orleans by a score of 108-110. Tyreke Evans drained a fade away jump shot with 1.2 seconds on the clock and handed the Blazers their first set of consecutive defeats this year. In the month of December, Portland has allowed their opponents to score at least 100 points in thirteen games. The Thunder sit at third in the league in scoring (106.1) and will try to be the fourteenth team to score more than 100 points on Portland this month.
Russell Westbrook had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee last Friday, as reported by ESPN.com news services. The operation will likely keep Westbrook on the sideline until after the All-Star break. With the final two meetings between Portland and Oklahoma City coming before the All-Star break (01/21 & 02/11), the Blazers have a good chance to take the regular season series from their division rivals. But with Kevin Durant still at the helm, the Blazers have lots of work to do.
Portland Trail Blazers:
- CJ McCollum (broken foot) will be out as he has been all season
Oklahoma City Thunder:
- Russell Westbrook (right knee) will be on the sideline for the second straight game.
Keys To The Game:
LaMarcus Aldridge vs Kevin Durant: In the first meeting, the stars of each team put on a show. LaMarcus Aldridge had a season-high 38 points to go along with 13 rebounds. Kevin Durant had 33 points and seven rebounds. Since Westbrook has been sidelined, Kevin Durant has averaged 33.5 points and 11.5 rebounds. LaMarcus finished last night with 28 points and 8 rebounds. The Blazers need LaMarcus to continue his offensive dominance in order to hang with the Thunder. It would also be great if LaMarcus could help Robin Lopez defend the paint tonight.
Defense. Defense. Defense. As I mentioned, the Thunder are the third highest scoring team in the league. The Blazers have allowed everyone they have played this month (except the last place Jazz) to score over 100 points. I don’t think the Blazers will be able to hold the Thunder to under 100 points at home but they need to make a better effort than last night. The Pelicans scored 68 points in the paint last night! If the Blazers don’t make an effort to defend the rim, the Thunder (and all of the other top Western Conference teams) will walk all over them.