Game Time 6:30 p.m. Pacific TV: KGW and ESPN
The Blazers played the Oklahoma City Thunder just four games ago, pulling away from them for a double-digit lead in the third period only to watch the Thunder come back for the single-point overtime victory in Portland's house. The Blazers built their lead smartly, limiting their opponent's strengths. They took care of the ball, kept the Thunder off of the foul line, packed the middle and kept OKC bombing from outside. The Blazers also exercised their own strengths offensively, looking to score in the middle and passing the ball alertly. Portland saw its lead evaporate behind two details: Power forward Serge Ibaka manhandling the Blazers' only interior scorer--LaMarcus Aldridge--on defense and Oklahoma City garnering a ton of offensive rebounds, breaking down Portland's otherwise decent defense via the glass and the put-back.
This game will be the same fight, Round 2. Oklahoma City has gone 1-1 since they played Portland, losing to Boston and beating Philadelphia, both in OKC. Their major developments are Ibaka getting about 10 more minutes per game since his stand in Portland and Kevin Durant upping his scoring to 30+ per game by drawing even more foul shots than he had prior (which was a ton). The Blazers will still want to keep Durant and company outside, away from higher-percentage shots to be sure but more importantly away from the charity stripe. They'll want to support their defense by going hard after rebounds even if they have to zone up in order to keep the Thunder outside. Westbrook in particular gets 1 or 2 offensive rebounds per game. He got 6 against the Blazers. That cannot happen again.
The Blazers almost beat OKC with a 6-17 performance from Brandon Roy so they're not going to be automatically disqualified if he's not 100%. Establishing Aldridge and the passing game remain priorities. This may also be a game where Andre Miller seeks to dominate, making Westbrook concentrate on defense. The ability of Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews to bother Durant will be key, of course. Team rebounding is always a must for Portland. Transition defense will also be important as the Thunder will counter Portland's length by trying to get easy, streaking buckets and get the crowd excited.
The Blazers have not beat a team that currently sits above .500 this year but the Thunder have only beaten one: the Blazers. This is not an impossible task for Portland.
It should not go unremarked that the Blazers have a chance (an outside one, but still a chance) in the next two games to erase both the Oklahoma City loss and that whipping at the hands of the Lakers the Sunday after. Step 1 would be returning the favor to OKC in their own building with interest. The old adage says any team can win on a given night. The Blazers need to pour everything into making sure they're that team tonight. Whatever pride, energy, determination, and general kick-buttedness can be mustered should be applied here. This game is against a division rival, a media darling, the team many picked to surpass the Blazers, and Portland owes them a loss to boot. Whatever the Blazers have in them should all come out tonight. When the Blazers get busted in the chops aer they going to walk away or are they going to do something about it?
Step 2, to be discussed more tomorrow provided the Blazers win tonight, would be to substitute the New Orleans Hornets' 7-0 record for the Steve Blake-Pau Gasol backboard dunk. Portland can't get back at the Lakers yet but they can make noise (and claim last weekend was a temporary pothole) by ending the Hornets' streak and making national news by doing so.
One game at a time, though, and Oklahoma City is first.
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