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Portland Trail Blazers at Oklahoma City Thunder Preview

The West’s third and fourth seeds square off.

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NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Portland Trail Blazers Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (44-28) at Oklahoma City Thunder (44-30)

Sunday, March 25th - 4:00 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: Jusuf Nurkic (probable), Evan Turner (probable), Ed Davis (probable), Shabazz Napier (questionable)
Thunder injuries: Andre Roberson (out)
How to watch on TV: NBCSNW, NBA League Pass (outside Portland)
How to stream: YouTube Live TV, Playstation Vue, Hulu Live TV, FuboTVPass, NBA League Pass (outside Portland)
Radio: 620 AM
SBN Affiliate: Welcome to Loud City

The Blazers announced this afternoon that all players are active.

After two consecutive losses, the Portland Trail Blazers head out on the road for a huge game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Oklahoma City, while still two games behind the Blazers in the loss column, sit one game behind the Blazers for the Western Conference’s third seed. Portland will hope to put some extra distance between the Thunder and themselves while getting back to their winning ways.

What to watch for

The Russell Westbrook Show. Westbrook is having another stellar statistical season, nearly averaging a triple-double after accomplishing the feat last season. Against Portland, however, too much Westbrook has been a bad thing for the Thunder. The point guard has averaged more than 25 attempts a night in three games against the Blazers — all losses. Westbrook tends to try to take over the game if things aren’t going his way, often to the detriment of his team. When things are going well, he’s one of the most electrifying players in the NBA. When they aren’t, he’s just as likely to shoot his team out of the game.

Oklahoma City free throws. The Thunder get to the line nearly 24 times per game, sixth in the NBA. Unfortunately for them, they tend to struggle at times from the line. The Thunder shoot 71 percent from the line, second to last in the league. If they’re having a good night from the charity stripe, look out.

The defense is still intact. When Andre Roberson, a standout defender, went down earlier in the season, many were predicting the end of Oklahoma City’s defensive efficiency. The team’s signing of Corey Brewer has kept them solid on that end, however. In the ten games since Brewer’s signing, the Thunder have the 10th best defensive rating in the NBA, one spot ahead of the Portland Trail Blazers.

What they’re saying

R.K. Anthony from Welcome to Loud City writes about the Thunder’s woes from the free throw line:

Become a decent free throw shooting team and the Thunder go from spotting the Warriors and Trailblazers a half a point to being spotted almost 2 points and cuts the Rocket’s advantage from 3.6 to 1.5, a full 2 points per game.

Oklahoma City has already paid a hefty fine as poor free throw shooting has cost the Thunder at least 3 games this season. On 10/22, the Thunder lost to the T-Wolves by 2. By applying the 80% free throw rule of thumb, the Thunder missed 4 free throws. On 12/29, the Thunder lost by 2 to the Bucks after leaving 5 on the 80% line, and of course, that debacle in Boston on 3/20 when the Thunder missed 3 of their last 4 free throws, and 4 of their last six, all in the last-minute, and lost the game by one.

Had the Thunder won those games and not left them on the charity stripe, their record now is 46 and 27 and the Thunder are holding the #3 spot in the Western Conference.

ESPN’s Royce Young discusses Westbrook’s improved shot selection over the course of the season:

Asked about the obvious adjustment after a December game in which he attempted only one 3-pointer, Westbrook wasn’t interested in conceding he was making a change. “You gotta win, that’s all I care about” was his response. Outside of a game George missed against the Bucks, Westbrook didn’t attempt more than five in a game for a month. In January, he took 2.6 a game (the Thunder went 10-4). In March, he’s at 2.4 a game (they’re 7-3). When Westbrook attempts three or fewer 3s, the Thunder are 26-7. Make it four or fewer, and they’re 32-12. If he takes five or more, they’re 10-17.

”Just trying to figure out the game,” Westbrook said of taking fewer 3s. “You see how can you help your team, help yourself improve, and that’s what I try to figure out throughout the season.”

When Westbrook is selective, the Thunder execute better. He breaks down defenses as well as anyone in the NBA, and the Thunder are at their best when he’s using that skill. Maybe the best example of it was in Toronto last Sunday when Westbrook shot 15-of-22 from the floor and just 1-of-1 from 3 in a Thunder win. He was a relentless wrecking ball of rim attacks, playing almost exclusively below the free throw line.