The Trail Blazers (12-14) stop for a game at home tonight against the Oklahoma City Thunder (15-9). Despite a tough loss last night, Portland has a great chance to beat OKC
Against the Clippers, we saw a few things that have been missing in recent weeks. Pride, determination and desire. In the second quarter, the Trail Blazers showed that they can play defense and still score – putting up 33 points to the Clippers 18. Don’t forget that the Clippers are ranked 5th in Offensive Rating and 4th in defensive rating.
With the bulk of the minutes being split between Evan Turner, Al-Farouq Aminu, Mason Plumlee, C.J. McCollum and Maurice Harkless – is it worth Terry Stotts considering promoting Turner to the starting five (and moving McCollum, not Damian Lillard to the bench)? Truth be told, it’s too small a sample size to tell, but the option of being able to go with a bigger and longer line-up it’s certainly something that should be experimented with. Particularly with a match-up against a certain Oakland based franchise rapidly approaching.
Thunderbolts and lightning
The biggest threat to the Trail Blazers tonight is, of course, Russell Westbrook. With a quarter of the season in the books, did anyone think the Thunder would be anywhere near their current standing? Westbrook is one of the few guards in this league that is ahead of Lillard athletically. This season, as the go-to-guy in Oklahoma, his lethal speed and explosiveness is causing headaches for every opponent. Don’t expect Lillard defensive plus minus rating (-2.9) to improve after this one.
The fact that Westbrook is currently averaging a triple-double (31.1ppg, 11apg and 10.9 rpg) is incredible. If he can maintain this production level all season long, he’ll become only the second player ever average a triple-double for a season (the first being Oscar Robertson in 1961-62). Factor in that Robertson’s Cincinnati Royals squad averaged 124.9 possessions per game versus OKC’s 98.8 and this feat becomes even more jaw dropping.
Calming the storm
The Thunder have won 7 of their last 8 games (their only loss to the Houston Rockets) and currently sit in two spots ahead of the Trail Blazers in the West. Outside of Westbrook, they’re a roster that struggles to create their own shot.
OKC are overly-reliant on Westbrook’s production. With their Star on the floor, the Thunder put up 109.8 points per 100 possessions. When he sits, that drops to meager 91.5 points. Clearly the top priority for Portland should be getting Westbrook off the floor. Easier said than done, given his average of 35.7 minutes per game. If Lillard is aggressive early, perhaps he can get Westbrook into foul trouble.
However, a more realistic strategy would be to clog the inside. Oklahoma are not a great three-point shooting team. As a roster, they are trail the only the Warriors in field goals made, but 59.7% of these are twos – there are only three teams that generate a higher percentage of their points from inside the arc. Keep them on the outside, force them to shoot from range. This game is winnable, but only if the Trail Blazers can carry on where they left off last night.