Game Time: 6:30 p.m. TV: KGW and ESPN
Before the radical changes of Thurdsay's trade deadline the storyline for this game was clear. The only thing that could wake up a slumping Blazers squad from their lackadaisical malaise (great band name there) besides a game at home versus the Lakers: any game versus the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Blazers have beaten the Thunder 1.99 times this season out of two meetings, that .01 coming from referee Scott Foster's infamously blown goal-tending call costing the Blazers a near-certain victory. Though the single game wouldn't matter much at this point in the two teams' relative standings (OKC 33-11, PDX 21-23) the memory no doubt stings, especially for Aldridge. Whatever the troubles with Portland this year (or any year, for that matter) beating Oklahoma City has become a rallying point. The Thunder don't fare well against the Blazers and the Blazers like it that way. If any game would have been the unexpected turnaround for the guys in red and black, this one would have.
Now, though, the entire landscape has changed. The Blazers won their unexpected game two nights ago in Chicago. They're riding a temporary high. The Thunder just lost at home versus the Spurs. They'll be out for blood. Portland's energy and enthusiasm increased when Gerald Wallace and Marcus Camby were traded away but that leaves them one less body against Kevin Durant and one less rebounder...maybe their only real rebounder who can play more than 20 minutes in a game. Plus, let's not kid ourselves, momentum and intangibles matter most when the contest is close. Whatever Portland's relative success head-to-head versus this team, the Thunder are Conference Champion contenders this year while the Blazers are hoping for lottery luck to secure their future.
Staring down the barrel of Durant and perpetual thorn-in-side Russell Westbrook, facing a supporting cast every bit as promising as Portland's used to be (let alone the current group), the Blazers' chances of victory are small. They have to hope the energy from Friday carries over, that Durant registers yet another paste-sniffing-level stupid effort against them, and that the rest of the Thunder are sleeping. It's not impossible to imagine Oklahoma City losing back-to-back at home, but it's a stretch unless the opposing teams are elite. San Antonio wasn't quite, but they're better than Portland. A loss tonight for OKC would be considered a major bungle.
At this point you probably know the Thunder roster by heart. You also know that they love their fast break points and free throws. They're better inside than out on offense. Their weaknesses are turnovers and rebounding. The bright spot for the Blazers is that energy, should they choose to evidence it, can take away OKC's strengths and exploit their weaknesses. The Blazers need to get back on defense, rebound the heck out of the ball from five positions, pack the paint against the OKC attack, and exploit those turnovers for easy points since they'll not be able to break if they're gang rebounding. The glaring problem comes at the foul line. It's hard to imagine Portland staying even with Oklahoma City in that department, especially on OKC's home court.
Portland fans should probably hope for another spirited effort and take anything resembling a close game as a blessing. If the Blazers were to win this one it would cap the oddest road trip in their history. That's too much to hope for, really. Let's see what happens.
Welcome to Loud City is your OKC hookup. Be nice if you visit.
Your Jersey Contest Form for this game.