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Game 4 Preview: Blazers vs. Thunder

Game Time:  4:00 p.m. Pacific   TV:  Comcast

No rest for the weary.  Goodbye Texas, hello Oklahoma.

A Look at the Thunder

The good news for OKC is that they've started the season 2-0, notching wins against the Kings at home and the Pistons on the road.  Kevin Durant shone in both contests, scoring 25 in each and pulling down 11 and then 12 rebounds.  Point Guard Russell Westbrook generated a double-double in each game as well, with 13 and 10 assists respectively.  The Pistons win shows that the Thunder might be ready to take a step beyond just being a young, talented team, becoming a threat on a given night.

The bad news for the Thunder is that these wins haven't exactly come against the cream of the NBA crop.  Sacramento is Sacramento.  Detroit has some names still but they're a roster in odd mish-mash of styles and talents that will probably take the long road towards gelling, if that happens at all.  Even though it's on their home floor, tonight will be a different kind of game for the Thunder.

For the Blazers, OKC presents a near-polar-opposite challenge from yesterday's Rockets.  Houston currently relies on role-players.  The Thunder are burgeoning with young skill players.  Kevin Durant is making a bid for superstardom in the league.  You couldn't trade the entire currently-healthy Houston roster for him...maybe not even if you threw Yao Ming in there.  Russell Westbrook is ascending alongside.  Small forward Jeff Green completes the triumvirate.  You can't slack off any of these guys in their respective comfort zones or they will torch you.  And their comfort zones are getting bigger every year, especially in Durant's case.

Besides the Big Three, Oklahoma City fields an offensive-minded center in Nened Krstic.  The former Net still has some range, both in terms of footwork and shot, and still doesn't rebound or defend all that well.  They compensate for the rebounding by sending in bruisers Nick Collison and Etan Thomas at power forward.  Their main rotation rounds out with shooting guard Thabo Sefolosha who has turned out to be quite a nice defender and upon whom they'll depend to keep an eye on Brandon Roy.

Individually the Thunder aren't strong defensively but part of their growth process is learning how to compensate for it as a team.  They've done a good job so far at limiting opponent percentage, a trend they'll need to continue tonight.  Their main weapon this year is going to be their 3.5-pronged offensive attack.  They are more than willing to share the ball.  They want to punish you with one threat until you cry uncle and swarm him.  Then they switch and let another guy come up with an easy look.  The Thunder will have trouble with the Blazers' team rebounding.  They'll also need to make their outside shots as the lane attack is not the best part of their offensive game.

Pivotal Points of the Game

1.  Interior defense is all well and good for Portland but as we just said the Thunder don't rely on a massive paint presence to win.  The Blazers are going to have to keep hands in the faces up jump shooters tonight.  They do have to watch out for Westbrook driving but they also have to understand that if they cut him off the next pass is far more likely to be for a jump shot than a dunk.  If you can't help and recover to the perimeter this team will barbeque you.  How often the Blazers can commit just one man to Durant and Westbrook and still come out unscathed will be the key here.

2.  Keep Kevin Durant off of the boards.  Right now he's their main rebounder.  Yes, he may score 30 but if nobody else sweeps the glass Portland should be able to overcome that.

3.  The easiest way to come out ahead will be for Roy and Aldridge to exploit their matchups the same way Durant and Westbrook will try to exploit theirs.  In particular Brandon needs to know that you can draw fouls on this team and that they don't have a major defensive paint presence.  As an added bonus they ain't deep.  Get one of their main guys in foul trouble and they're going to have a hard time compensating.

4.  Greg Oden should be able to feast on offensive rebounds tonight.  Grab it, dunk it, watch your point total rise.

5.  The Thunder are going to want a pretty game.  Try and get a little physical and push them around...see what happens.

Final Thoughts

After last night's loss this would be a soul-soothing pick up for the team.  A rocky start was always a possibility but I don't think 1-3 was on the team's radar when the season started.

Check out the Oklahoma City point of view at

Jersey Contest begins Tuesday.  Enjoy your last free game of the year.

--Dave (