Portland Trail Blazers (15-24) vs Oklahoma City Thunder (26-11)
Sunday, January 10
Moda Center | 6:00 p.m. PST | Local TV/Radio: CSN; 620 AM
Portland injury report: None | Oklahoma City injury report: None
SBN Affiliate: Welcome to Loud City | Blazer's Edge Night 2016
After letting the Golden State Warriors shoot 52.9 percent in a 128-108 loss on Friday, the Portland Trail Blazers hope to avoid their fourth consecutive loss at home when they face the Oklahoma City Thunder tonight.
The Thunder have been on a roll of late, winning eight of their last 10 games, with one of their two losses in that time frame coming with Kevin Durant sidelined with an injured toe.
Oklahoma City features an explosive offensive attack. Just check out these numbers; a second-ranked 112.3 ORtg, a third-ranked 47.5 percent field goal percentage, and a third-ranked 79 percent from the free throw line on a fifth-ranked 25.6 attempts per game.
That's not to say that the Thunder are a one trick pony. OKC is also the second best rebounding team in the league, averaging 47.5 per game, including 12.6 on the offensive glass.
Everything starts with Durant and point guard Russell Westbrook, arguably the most devastating two man combo in the league. Durant, after missing the majority of last season with a series of foot surgeries, has picked up where he left off, averaging 26.5 points, 7.7 rebounds, 4.4 assists, and 1.4 blocks on 52 percent shooting from the field. Durant is also hitting from 3-point land at a 42 percent clip and shoots 89 percent from the free throw line. If pressed to find a knock in his game, it's that his free throw attempts have declined from more than nine per game over his last two full seasons down to under seven this year, his lowest rate since his rookie season.
Though the Thunder were understandably nervous with the lack of progress in Durant's broken foot, missing the majority of last season allowed Westbrook the opportunity to jump from All-Star to legitimate MVP candidate, as he single handedly almost willed the Thunder to the playoffs. Though his scoring has understandably taken a slight dip, Westbrook is having a better overall season thus far, averaging 25.5 points, 9.4 assists, 6.9 rebounds, and a league-leading 2.4 steals per game. Most importantly, Westbrook has increased his field goal percentage from just over 42 percent last season to 46 percent this year.
Not a significant threat from beyond the arc, Westbrook may be the best in the league at putting his head down and getting to the rim. He has an elite first step, superior strength for a guard, and is a fantastic finisher around the hoop.
Starting power forward Serge Ibaka is having a typical Ibaka-like season, putting up 13.3 points and 6.6 rebounds to go along with his 2.4 blocks per game. While he is several seasons removed from the years where he put up more than three blocks per game, Ibaka is one of the best weak-side helpers and shot challengers around the rim. Though he shoots a good percentage from beyond the arc for a big man, Ibaka has cut his 3-point attempts nearly in half, down to below two per game, increasing his looks from the deep midrange and right at the rim.
Joining Ibaka in the frontcourt is "love him or hate him" center Steven Adams. Every team needs a big man willing to do nothing but dirty work, and Adams is that guy. Known for trying to get in his opponents' head at nearly every opportunity, Adams is actually having a very efficient season, statistically, averaging 6.5 points and 6.3 rebounds on 58 percent shooting in 23 minutes per game.
Starting shooting guard Andre Roberson is the perfect role playing guard to accompany the rest of the starters. Only averaging four shot attempts in 22 minutes per contest, Roberson plays solid defense and takes what is given to him on offense, with 65 percent of his two-point field goals and every make from beyond the arc being assisted by a teammate.
Off the bench, Oklahoma City features a pair of high volume scorers with major defensive struggles in Dion Waiters and Enes Kanter. Waiters, who never met a shot he didn't like, shoots below 37 percent from everywhere on the court outside of three feet from the rim, yet only takes 30 percent of his shots at the hoop. Kanter, on the other hand, is having a fine season offensively, averaging nearly 12 points in his 20 minutes per game, and shooting 56 percent from the floor. Unfortunately for he and the Thunder, the game of basketball requires defense, where Kanter notoriously struggles with both ability and effort.
Guards Anthony Morrow and Cameron Payne take the majority of the remaining perimeter minutes, with both players connecting from beyond the arc at over a 40 percent clip. Payne, in particular, has come on strong of late, averaging only nine minutes per game on the season, but putting nearly 20 minutes per contest over the last five games. Nick Collison provides stopgap minutes at the power forward and center position.
The Blazers will need to focus on defense as they continue through a difficult 1-4 stretch that has seen them allow over 108 points per game. While Damian Lillard had a big scoring night on Friday against the Golden State Warriors, he struggled defensively (as everyone does against Steph Curry) and will not have any let up facing off with Westbrook.
After going 11-39 from the field in his first two games back from injury, Lillard finally had a solid shooting night against Golden State, going 12-27 from the floor on his way to 40 points. Lillard will need to continue his upward swing if Portland is to have a chance in this game. He doesn't need to take 27 shots, but getting above 45 percent and limiting turnovers against the steal-happy Westbrook will be vital for the Blazers.
One of the more intriguing matchups of the night will be to see how Al-Farouq Aminu fares against Kevin Durant. Aminu, the Blazers' best perimeter defender, has the length and quickness to force Durant into expending a lot of energy working for his buckets, but that's the very definition of "easier said than done."
Meyers Leonard and the Maurice Harkless/Allen Crabbe combo should look to be aggressive against Kanter and Waiters, respectively. Leonard, in particular, should look to be active as Kanter gets lost on defense almost willingly.
Keys to the Game
Keep it close in the first half: Good teams know how to close, and Oklahoma City typically doesn't give away games. If Portland gets behind by double digits early, the Thunder won't let up. The Blazers need to start strong -- or at least strong enough to keep this a game as matchups and strategy unfold in the second half.
Rebound: Oklahoma City is an elite rebounding team, particularly on the offensive glass. Portland is going to need to be aggressive in terms of getting good position and boxing out. An Ed Davis or Mason Plumlee double-double would be huge for the Blazers tonight.
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