Oklahoma City Thunder (35-25) at Portland Trail Blazers (24-35)
March 2, 2016, 7:30 PST
Watch: TNT; Listen: Rip City Radio 620 AM
Blazers injuries: Evan Turner (out), Ed Davis (out), Festus Ezeli (out)
Thunder injuries: Victor Oladipo (day-to-day)
SBN Affiliate: Welcome to Loud City
The Trail Blazers are returning home to host the new-look Thunder tonight. Both teams have reshuffled their rosters since their last meeting on Feb. 5, but that is where the similarities come to an end for the division rivals. Oklahoma City is currently riding the momentum of a four-game winning streak, while Portland has recorded just one victory in six games.
The Thunder have added shooting and experience to their bench after acquiring Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott from the Bulls at the trade deadline. The added depth further adds to the arsenal surrounding the MVP-caliber play of Russell Westbrook.
Westbrook is currently averaging a triple-double, and he is coming into tonight’s contest on the heels of two consecutive 40-point outings. There is no secret behind Coach Billy Donovan’s offense, as his star guard is currently sporting a usage rate - 41.9 percent - that would make Allen Iverson circa 2001 blush. Westbrook makes a living by punishing defenses that are slow to react, which isn’t good news for a Blazers team that is still integrating a new center.
It’s unclear who will join Westbrook in the backcourt, as Victor Oladipo continues to deal with lingering back issues. If the former Magic guard is unable to suit up tonight, Alex Abrines will receive another start in his place.
Marinating overseas after being drafted in 2013, Abrines is carving out a role as a 3-point specialist in his first year in the NBA. While the 23 year old can’t create his own shot like Oladipo can, he is capable of hurting opposing teams that cheat towards the paint on defense. Regardless of who starts, coach Terry Stotts will face a tough challenge when scheming for either player.
Ed Davis’ injury couldn’t have come at worse time for the Blazers, as the Thunder boast one of the deepest post rotations in the league. Enes Kanter is three games into his return from injury, while Gibson has adapted quickly to his new surroundings. Facing an abundance of big bodies, Jusuf Nurkic, Meyers Leonard, and Noah Vonleh will have their hands full this evening.
Nurkic has already squared off against Rudy Gobert and Andre Drummond in his time with the Blazers, and it won’t get any easier when he is tasked with keeping Steven Adams off the glass. Adams collected nine offensive rebounds in the last meeting, which allowed Oklahoma City to get multiple extra chances on offense.
The gap between Portland and Denver for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference is widening, but tonight’s matchup could reverse that trend. The Blazers have had sizable leads in their last two games, and perhaps playing at home will allow them to maintain a favorable margin down the stretch.