Portland Trail Blazers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder Preview

Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The Blazers face a tough match-up with the Thunder tonight at home on the first night of a back-to-back. All-Stars LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Durant will lead their respective teams, both stepping up their intensity in three games against each other this season.

Tuesday, February 11
Moda Center; Portland, OR | 7:00 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: CSNNWHD, NBATV; 620 AM
Out for the Blazers: Mo Williams (out indefinitely) | Out for the Thunder: Russell Westbrook

The Blazers play the Oklahoma City Thunder for the fourth and final time this regular season tonight at the Moda Center.

OKC All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook hasn't played since Christmas, but the Thunder are still on a roll, commandeered by forward Kevin Durant.

Lately, forward Serge Ibaka has also played some of his best basketball of the season and point guard Reggie Jackson has willingly stepped into a scoring role, taking more shots per game than all his teammates besides Durant in their last five outings.

Durant -- who was recently named NBA Western Conference Player of the Month for January -- has been burning opposing defenses for 30.6 points, 7.2 rebounds and a staggering 8.2 assists his last five games. He is a threat to score from anywhere on the floor, particularly off the dribble as he's fully adapted to a point-forward role in Westbrook's absence. Durant has cooled off ever-so-slightly the last couple weeks, though, converting on 49.1 percent of his field-goals and 35.5 percent on his three-pointers, down from season-long percentages of 51.2 and 41.9, respectively. Still, Durant's assist and rebounding numbers are pretty impressive coming from the small forward position. If there's any weakness for Durant right now, it's that he is committing about five turnovers a game due to his heightened responsibility on offense.

Ibaka is not a scoring threat past 15-20 feet, but from anywhere inside those boundaries, he's lethal. His mid-range jumper is reliable, and he goes to it often, but Ibaka's best production comes near the rim where he's an elite finisher. The majority of his scoring comes off passes from teammates, and he's particularly effective playing a two-man game with Durant. Ibaka is scorching the nets right now, connecting on over 63 percent of his 13 shot-attempts per night.

Jackson has been a reliable scoring option for Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks, though he's less efficient than both Ibaka and Durant. Jackson doesn't have much of a three-point stroke, but he's effective at getting to the rim and finishes well inside. The jumper isn't quite a weapon yet for Jackson and he doesn't draw many free-throws. Backup point guard Derek Fisher -- at 39 years old -- has a true-shooting percentage of about 70 percent his last several games, playing a consistent veteran role off the bench while canning half of his threes.

Guard Thabo Sefolosha has been consistent from outside, hitting 40 percent of his threes. Wings Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones are both struggling from the field right now off the bench, only making a third of their shots and a fraction of their threes. Big men Kendrick Perkins, Nick Collison and rookie Steven Adams rarely contribute on the offensive side of the ball.

Overall, the Thunder have won 13 of their last 15 games, including an eight-point home victory over the Blazers about three weeks ago. Since February started, Oklahoma City is cashing in on 47.6 percent of its field-goals but only 33.9 percent of its threes. Durant gets to the line about nine times a game, but the rest of the team only combines for about 10 free-throw attempts.

Oklahoma City's defense has been suffocating the perimeter this month, only allowing opponents to hit 31.2 percent of their three-pointers. In that timespan, the Thunder have allowed 44.9 percent from the field and have only put opponents at the free-throw line 18 times a night -- compared to almost 28 times a game for Blazers opponents.

Portland was able to split its recent road trip 2-2, and some of the individual numbers have been slightly promising. Point guard Damian Lillard continues his climb back into early-season form, now hitting over 46 percent of his field-goals his last five games, though his last outing against the Timberwolves was a bit of a struggle as he was 3-10 from the field and 1-4 from outside. Even with a bad game in tow, Lillard's numbers continue to improve overall and he's now 31.2 percent from downtown his last five games, up from when it was below 25 percent for a several-week stretch last month. In that same amount of time, Lillard has also increased his assists, up from a season average of 5.7 to 6.8.

Forward Nicolas Batum continues to have bouts where he disappears from Portland coach Terry Stotts' offense almost altogether, but he's proven much more effective lately when playing aggressively. Batum is now hitting almost half of his field-goals, but turned in an 0-4 performance from deep Saturday against the Timberwolves and is still shooting a full 10 percentage points below his season average of 33.7 percent from beyond the arc his last several games.

Power forward LaMarcus Aldridge is a steady 45.4 percent on his field-goal attempts, putting in 22 points a game. He was getting to the line more often for a stretch last month, but that trend has since subsided somewhat and he's now taking fewer than six free-throws per contest. Against the Timberwolves this weekend, Aldridge turned in a 12-16 performance, scoring 26 points while only attempting two free-throws.

Guard Wesley Matthews hasn't had his best month from within the arc, but from outside it, he's been an assassin the last couple weeks, hitting more than 43 percent of his three-point tries while taking over six a game. Backup rookie guard C.J. McCollum -- filling in for usual sixth-man Mo Williams -- had the signature game of his young career Saturday night, dropping 19 points and hitting three of six outside shots in Minnesota. McCollum is now the most efficient scorer in Stotts' recent rotation -- small-ish sample size considered -- and he's making over half his field-goals and over 44 percent of his three-pointers this month.

Centers Joel Freeland and Robin Lopez have hit about half their shots all season, and that steady play has continued from both. Forward Thomas Robinson and Dorell Wright have found themselves back in Stotts' rotation for the time being, though neither has played well at all offensively. Point guard Earl Watson should continue seeing playing time as long as Williams remains away from the team, good for a steady 11 minutes a night.

The Blazers have gone 3-2 in February, with some noticeable improvements -- if incremental -- on both sides of the ball. This month, Portland has hit 44.3 percent of its shots and 35.6 percent of its threes, up from some much poorer numbers in January. The Blazers are holding opponents to about 43 percent shooting from the field, also an improvement from a recent tough stretch and they've locked down the three-point line lately, too, keeping opponents below 31 percent from deep. While the Blazers draw 27 free-throw attempts of their own, they've given up the same amount. Also, turnovers are way up this month as Batum and Lillard have had some struggles with coughing up the ball.

Perkins has been a beast on the glass, easily Oklahoma City's best individual rebounder lately. As a team, the Thunder are solid at pulling down boards on both sides of the ball. Perkins' performances have been bolstered by strong work on the glass by Ibaka and Durant. Off the bench, Adams and Collison play essentially the same role as Freeland and Robinson for the Blazers -- high-energy, high-effort rebounders who grab a large percentage of available rebounds in limited minutes. Aldridge continues his strong play on the boards, with Lopez not far behind. Portland's strengths on the glass are mostly on the offensive side of the ball, where they are one of the best teams in the league at grabbing rebounds and creating second-chance opportunities. Defensively, they're not as good, some late-game defensive rebounding woes helping to prevent a victory in Indiana over the weekend.

In three games against each other, Portland has snuck away with two victories over the Thunder this year. In those match-ups, Aldridge has been at his best, averaging 30.7 points and almost 15 rebounds and connecting on over half his field-goals. Every other Blazer besides Lopez has struggled against Oklahoma City the majority of the time. Meanwhile, Durant has averaged 38.7 points, over 52 percent shooting from both three-point range and from the field and over 10 free-throws a game against Portland this season. The rest of Durant's teammates are typically average or sub-par against the Blazers. He's probably the best scorer in the league right now, shows no signs of slowing down and almost always plays well against Portland.

These two teams have played three relatively close games this season, the average margin of victory less than seven points. The Blazers should look to take advantage of the turnovers the Thunder give up, as they lose the ball more than almost every other team in the NBA. Likewise, Portland needs to be more careful with the ball and kick the recent trend of turning the ball over. If this year's history between the two teams is any indication, expect Durant and Aldridge to both step up big for their teammates. The victory tonight will likely go to the team that gets the better performance out of its supporting cast of players.

-- Chris Lucia | bedgecast@gmail.com | Twitter

P.S. Congratulations to the entire Blazer's Edge community for helping send 1,000 underprivileged Portland-area youth to the Wizards game for Blazer's Edge Night on March 20th!

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