Game Time: 7:00 p.m. TV: Comcast and NBATV
Having summarily disposed of the sleepwalking Denver Nuggets on Saturday the Blazers now turn around and face the division-leading, conference-beating, 18-5, 9-4 on the road, already smarting from one loss to Portland Oklahoma City Thunder.
If you're not sure who these guys are, I'd like to personally thank you for making Blazersedge your first stop upon your return from that deserted island. As I'm sure the Professor can tell you, this is called the internet. You click buttons and get lots of bad information and pictures of naked people. Enjoy it, but do not Google "Ginger and Mary Ann Fan Fiction". You will not be pleased with what you find.
For the rest of you, you might notice that Kevin Durant guy is doing pretty well for himself. He blocks shots like a center, rebounds like a power forward, shoots the same percentage as a post player, collects free throw attempts like a whiz-bang shooting guard, and scores like a nonesuch. 27 points and 8 rebounds on 51% shooting is just the tip of the iceberg. There's enough ice there to keep the collective beers of our readership cold for at least 2-3 seasons.
Even more impressive, the franchise has managed to surround Durant with quality players. They just extended Russell Westbrook, Star 1B in OKC. He's got a killer attitude, a nose for the ball, and pumps in 22 per game himself plus 6 assists and 5 rebounds. Guard James Harden has also come alive, scoring 17 per game by mixing three-pointers and free throws. They've got more scoring power than a couple of the worse teams the Blazers have seen in the last month combined.
The rest of OKC's players know their roles. Serge Ibaka is a fine power forward who can rebound, provide some toughness, and score when needed. Also present and accounted for in the tough department is center Kendrick Perkins. He got plenty of grief for a recent SportsCenter-shattering dunk Blake Griffin threw down on him but hey...Perkins was there and he hit him on that slam. Would you rather have the guy who just meekly ducked out of the way? If the Thunder don't want Perk the Blazers would be happy to have him. Absent a pre-game trade Portland will have to deal with plenty of shoves and some quality rebounding at the center position. Daequan Cook hits threes, Nick Collison and Nazr Mohammed are well-worn but dependable veterans. If the Thunder don't exactly bring firepower off their bench they also don't bring anybody who's going to get in the way of what they do best. Everybody helps out. Everybody fits. Durant and Westbrook are the shining lights. The rest of these guys are the pole that holds them up.
The Thunder will almost certainly be without defensive-minded shooting guard Thabo Sefolosha tonight. The Blazers, on the other hand, will probably play without their only proven point guard in Raymond Felton. Advantage OKC, at least as far as being tested and familiar with their loss.
The Thunder have an efficient offense, top third in points in the paint and fast break points, top two in free throws drawn, third in shooting percentage, third in free throw percentage. They're average shooting three-pointers, also average in the number of attempts from beyond the arc. It's a viable option, not a staple. They don't connect with many assists, unsurprising given their focus on 2-3 offensive players. They do, however, turn the ball over, victims of their own individual creativity and the defense's assurance that almost all key shots are coming from the same sources.
Oklahoma City's defense doesn't quite match up to the prowess of the offense. They're not bad. It's just fair to say that their defense holds one of the opponent's arms while the offense delivers the haymaker. They're average in fast break points allowed, worse in points in the paint allowed. They stay in front of their men on the perimeter, getting hands in faces instead of going for the steal. They do hold opponents to low percentages overall from the field and three-point arc but they also foul when they get in trouble. The most sterling feature of their "D" may be their propensity to block shots. Somebody's always lurking and they do a good job of helping each other out.
If the Thunder have an overall weakness it may be rebounding. They're just so-so in this department when every other has at least a strong recommendation or two.
Put all that together though and you get a team that generally keeps the opponent shooting contested shots and then attacks them with players who can't be contested on many plays. It works. It works well, in fact.
When the Thunder have lost it's been because of defensive breakdowns. All five of their losses featured the opponent scoring in triple digits, ranging from a low of 100 on a night when OKC's offense crumbled to a high of 112 when the Clippers pulverized them. Scoring big and scoring quickly will likely be Portland's desired plan tonight.
The other ace in the hole for the Blazers has been the propensity of Kevin Durant to lose his mind when playing this team....and not in a good way. In the last game Portland played decent defense on him but not enough to cause him to start bombing away from 20 feet and beyond for most of the game. He shot 8-26 on a night when LaMarcus Aldridge scored 30, looking to for the world like the true superstar forward. If Durant continues to play like no shot is a bad shot Portland will thank him profusely.
The presumed loss of Felton will be the sharpest obstacle for the Blazers initially. Jamal Crawford has not been a reliable option at point, particularly if the Blazers get shunted into the halfcourt offense. Neither does the home team have a reasonable alternative should Crawford get into trouble, be that dribbling, foul trouble, or simply not being able to set the offense. The Blazers may have to force the Thunder's hand with some simple two-man plays with their best players and hope that their individual offense skills are as unconquerable as those of the opposing stars.
If the Blazers can find a way to score, however, this should be an interesting game. Portland has talent and they play with a certain joie de vivre at home. If you see Portland's forwards start to dominate and the guards can both take care of the ball and hit a couple shots, the Thunder will be the worried team. The Blazers aren't an easy target at home for anybody. If Portland can manage this win they'll be able to hold their heads high, knowing they've taken down the two teams ahead of them in their division in succession. That alone should provide enough hope to keep them and their fans running strong for the next few weeks.
Read about the good time they're having over at Welcome to Loud City.
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