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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder Preview

The Blazers will try to put some breathing room between themselves and Northwest Division rival Oklahoma City in the standings.

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NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (36-26) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (37-27)

Saturday, March 3rd - 7:00 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: Moe Harkless (questionable)
Thunder injuries: Andre Roberson (out),
How to watch on TV: NBCSNW, NBA League Pass (outside of Portland)
How to stream: YouTube Live TV, Playstation Vue, Hulu Live TV, FuboTV, NBA League Pass (outside of Portland)
Radio: 620 AM
SBN Affiliate: Welcome to Loud City

The schedule makers have again given the Blazers a golden opportunity as they face the Thunder on the second night of a back-to-back at the Moda Center.

Portland is positively flying with a record of 12-1 over their last 13 home games and having won five in a row overall. Damian Lillard is playing perhaps the best basketball of his career, CJ McCollum is ranging from very good to spectacular from game to game and the rest of the team seems to be finding constructive supporting roles that seemed elusive earlier in the year.

The good news for Oklahoma City is that they’ve won five out of their last six games. The bad news is they’ve looked less-than-stellar while doing it. Since Andre Roberson went down with a ruptured patellar tendon they are giving up north of 109 points per game. Still, the Thunder have enough raw talent to claw and scratch their way to wins, especially against weaker opponents. Can they conjure up a win against the Blazers? It is certainly possible, but if they do it almost certainly won’t be by playing pretty basketball.

What to watch for

Lots of outside shooting from the Blazers. Since Andre Roberson got injured the Thunder are simply not closing down outside shooters. Opponents are shooting 39.2 percent from deep post-injury, fourth worst in the league over that period. Expect the Blazers to shoot early and often from beyond the arc.

Can the Blazers hold on to the ball? Oklahoma City is the best team in the NBA in getting steals at nine per game. They also force 16 turnovers per game, second in the league. What do those turnovers mean? Points. The Thunder turn those turnovers in 17.3 points per game, also good for second in the NBA. If recent Oklahoma City games are any indication, the Blazers might find themselves with a decent lead in the second half. They’ll have to protect the ball if they want to preserve that lead.

Will Corey Brewer be on hand and can he make a difference? As of this writing Brewer has not been formally announced as a Thunder player, but he plans on signing once he clears waivers. The Thunder certainly aren’t expecting tons of points as he averaged 3.7 points and shot 18.6 percent for the Lakers this year. What he can bring is defense, exactly what Oklahoma City is missing, especially after losing Roberson. Whether he will be available to play against Portland is still an open question, and if he does it is not certain that he will make a difference. Still, the last thing the Blazers need is to face a great defender with something to prove to his new team.

What they’re saying

Eric Horne of the Oklahoman writes the Moda Center has been a house of horrors for the Thunder:

The Thunder couldn’t be looking forward to going to Phoenix, then Portland on a back-to-back. Its recent play and history suggests OKC wants no part of what’s been two confoundingly difficult places to win in the Billy Donovan Era.

If the Thunder was to escape the two-game set with a win, it would equal three years of success — or lack thereof — against the Suns and Blazers on the road.

Eight times the Thunder has played in Phoenix and Portland since Donovan took over as coach in the 2015-16 season. The Thunder has one win, a 14-point victory over the Suns on Feb. 8, 2016. Otherwise, the Thunder has been outscored by an average of 10.4 points in seven losses.

The Thunder are getting wins but aren’t impressing. Jeremy Lambert of Thunderous Intentions looks at what isn’t going right:

Russell Westbrook is not the same player he was prior to the All-Star break. Maybe it’s because he doesn’t have Andre Roberson doing offensive dirty work for him. Maybe the friendship with Kevin Durant, which I joked about last week, has made him soft. Whatever the case might be, he’s playing like early season Westbrook right now.

He’s shooting 33 percent from the field and 11 percent from three. That fact that he’s back to taking 5-plus threes a game is particularly concerning. OKC had their best stretch when he cut out threes unless they were necessary. Now, he’s firing away. That’s not good for a guy who is a career 31 percent shooter from beyond the arc.

BenMertens of Welcome to Loud City looks ahead to Billy Donovan’s playoff rotations:

The first part of guessing Billy Donovan’s rotations is easy- Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Steven Adams and Carmelo Anthony are all going to play massive minutes. All average more than 32 minutes per game- expect to see Russ and Paul George above 40, and Adams and Melo above 35. That’s about 150 minutes per game of the available 240 (48 minutes x 5 players on the court at any time). How Billy Donovan divides up the remaining 90 minutes, and what the players can give him in those remaining minutes, might be the margin between victory and defeat in these playoff series.

Here’s what the Thunder will need from the players besides the fab four come playoff time, and how Donovan can use his rotations to maximize them: