Portland Trail Blazers (22-7) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (13-15)
Tuesday, December 23
Chesapeake Energy Arena; Oklahoma City, OK | 5:00 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: CSNNWHD; 620 AM
Out for the Blazers: Robin Lopez, LaMarcus Aldridge (day-to-day) | Out for the Thunder: Mitch McGary, Kevin Durant (game-time decision)
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UPDATE: Portland has announced that Nicolas Batum will not play tonight, but LaMarcus Aldridge is active. Oklahoma City has announced that Kevin Durant is out tonight as well.
The Blazers wrap up a four-game road trip tonight in Oklahoma City against the Thunder, playing in their fourth game in five nights and on the second half of a back-to-back set.
Portland was obliterated last night by the Houston Rockets, 110-95, while All-Star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge sat out with an upper-respiratory illness. His status is considered day-to-day and Thunder forward Kevin Durant will be a game-time decision tonight after he sprained his ankle Thursday against the Warriors.
Oklahoma City has lost two of its last three contests, following a seven-game winning streak when Durant returned to the lineup in early December after missing the first several weeks of the season with a leg injury.
The Thunder have averaged over 105 points per game the last five, though they've been an average team shooting the ball from the field in that time and in the bottom third of the league shooting from outside. OKC doesn't score a lot on the fastbreak and doesn't have the best ball movement. The Thunder get to the line often, mainly due to the aggressiveness of point guard Russell Westbrook, who is the league's leading scorer the last five games (30.6 points per night) while attempting more free throws than anyone in that span (12.2 per contest).
After a loss to the Pelicans Sunday, Westbrook said he'd like to start tapering down the amount of three-pointers he attempts and focus more on driving to the rim. Over half his shots have come in the paint the last five games, but he hasn't finished particularly well in that span. Westbrook's best shot is his midrange jumper, which he's made over half the time the last couple weeks. In that span, he's attempted 4.8 threes a game but has cashed in on only 20.8 percent of them.
Durant had been on fire when he was playing earlier this month, and if he can go tonight, he'll be the Thunder's biggest threat from all over the court; Playing in three of OKC's last five games, Durant has hit 58.8 percent of his field goals and a ridiculous 58.3 percent of his three-pointers, also converting three-quarters of his attempts at the rim.
If Durant sits, forward Perry Jones will likely start in his place. He's been unable to hit his threes lately and doesn't really attempt many shots. Joes went 5-for-9 Sunday against New Orleans, though, scoring 12 points. Guard Reggie Jackson has a decent floater, has finished inside at a 60 percent rate the last five games and has made 42.9 percent of his threes, most of them coming at the top of the key. He comes off the bench but plays bigger minutes than the other reserves.
Power forward Serge Ibaka has upped his three-point attempts this season, making 38.5 percent of them the last several games. The majority of Ibaka's shots are midrange jumpers and threes. Occasionally he'll take the ball inside but he's not a huge threat to score at the basket. Starting center Steven Adams doesn't take many shots, but when he has the last five games, they've been right at the rim and he's made over two-thirds of them.
Guard Andre Roberson starts and doesn't get many shots up, shooting almost exclusively inside when he does and converting at a solid rate.
Thunder coach Scott Brooks has a 10 or 11-man rotation, depending on Durant's availability. Wing Anthony Morrow has played about 22 minutes a game the last five, sinking 41.2 percent of his threes. Guard Jeremy Lamb and big men Nick Collison and Kendrick Perkins round out the lineup, but don't contribute much individually on offense.
The Blazers' defense had been pretty stout heading into last night's debacle in Houston, when they allowed 110 points, 22 assists and 13 made three-pointers against the Rockets. Still, that was without Aldridge, and if he's back tonight, Portland should be able to get back to playing the defense it had in the weeks prior, when it was limiting opponents' three-point attempts and defending the floor well, overall. The Blazers forced 16 turnovers last night, scoring 19 fastbreak points in the process. OKC coughs up the ball fairly regularly but defends in transition well, so those points may not be there for Portland tonight.
Blazers guard Damian Lillard went 6-of-16 from the field last night and 0-for-5 from deep, finishing with 18 points and three assists in 32 minutes. In the opening game of the 2014-15 season against the Thunder, Lillard hit just three of his 10 field goal attempts and finished with 10 points while Westbrook cruised to 38 points, even though Portland won in blowout fashion. If Aldridge is out again tonight, Lillard will be the focal point of the Blazers' offense. If that's the case, he'll have to muster up a better effort than he did last night against the Rockets and in the first game of the season against Oklahoma City. Though he's had several highlight-reel finishes the last couple weeks, Lillard has made 58.3 percent of his shots at the rim in that time -- below average for a point guard -- but has hit over half his midrange jumpers and 40 percent of his threes, even taking into account last night's 0-for-5 performance from outside.
Guard Wesley Matthews went 5-of-10 from the field against Houston and 3-for-5 from deep. His jumpshot has been a bit off lately, but he's gone 7-for-12 on right-corner three-pointers the last five games. Earlier in the season against the Thunder, Matthews connected on five of his nine outside shots and ended with 22 points.
Wing Nicolas Batum got the start last night but only got three shots up in 24 minutes, collecting three assists. He's been generally bad from the field lately, playing in four of the last five games, but has distributed the ball well.
Big men Joel Freeland and Meyers Leonard started in the frontcourt last night for coach Terry Stotts in place of Aldridge and center Robin Lopez. Freeland was a non-factor offensively and didn't collect a single rebound on that end, something he typically does well. Leonard's offense was going early, but that tailed off as the night progressed and he finished the game 5-of-11 from the field and 3-of-7 from deep.
Missing two starters and in the midst of a four-games-in-five-nights stretch, Stotts went deep into his reserve unit against the Rockets but came up mostly short. Forward Thomas Robinson went 0-for-2 and guards Will Barton and Allen Crabbe combined to shoot 2-of-7 from the field. Center Chris Kaman made four of his seven attempts -- he was also the best bench player in the first game against OKC, going 6-of-10 from the field -- while guards Steve Blake and CJ McCollum each hit a pair of threes. Victor Claver got off the Blazers' bench for the first time all season last night against Houston and made his only field goal attempt. If Aldridge plays tonight, it's likely back to the inactive list for Claver.
The Thunder's defense has been inconsistent the last several games, defending the arc reasonably well but performing pretty average, otherwise. Oklahoma City allows somewhat easy ball movement and rarely forces turnovers, but opposing teams don't go to the free throw line for easy points against the Thunder, either. They've allowed fewer points per game than any other team in the league this season, but with Durant's health again in question, the defense has been predictably worse. OKC has given up 28, 32 and 33 assists to the opposition the last three games, respectively. Ibaka has blocked more shots per game than all but New Orleans big man Anthony Davis the last couple weeks, but Oklahoma City is average at defending the paint as a team.
The Thunder rebound well on both sides, similarly to the Blazers. Assuming full health (or close to it) for both teams, tonight's matchup is pretty even on the boards. If Aldridge sits, though, Portland's thin frontcourt will have trouble keeping Adams off the glass. A better effort will be needed from Robinson, Freeland and Kaman, who typically hit the offensive boards hard but came up short in Houston.
This meeting of Northwest Division foes will largely be decided by which team has its full array of players available. If Durant sits and Aldridge plays, Portland should have the upper-hand; The opposite is true if Durant is good to go and Aldridge misses the game. If neither superstar forward plays, this game comes down to Lillard, Westbrook and their respective supporting casts.
Lillard couldn't carry the Blazers and their depleted frontcourt to a win against the Rockets last night, but Westbrook's 29 points against the Pelicans on Sunday wasn't enough for the victory with Durant on the sidelines, either. Portland plays tonight for the fourth time in five days, but it's the end of a long road trip and they'll have two days off before kicking off a seven-game homestand on Friday. Don't be surprised to see a solid effort from the Blazers -- no matter who's available -- to wrap up a difficult portion of the early-season and wash out the bad taste of last night's loss in Houston.
-- Chris Lucia | email@example.com | Twitter
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