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Hughes: OKC is the Best First-Round Opponent for the Blazers

Grant Hughes of Bleacher Report picks the most favorable first-round matchup for each of the probable playoff teams.

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

The Portland Trail Blazers stand at 48-30 with just four games left, good for No. 3 in the Western Conference. With the NBA Playoffs around the corner, Grant Hughes of Bleacher Report gives his opinion for the most favorable first-round opponent for each of the 16 most likely teams to reach the postseason.

It should come as no surprise to Blazer fans that Hughes picked the Oklahoma City Thunder as the best first-round matchup for Portland:

Portland is a perfect 4-0 against OKC, boasting a 6.7 net rating. The Kings, Mavs and Suns are the only West foes against whom the Blazers have a higher differential. Barring a sweeping last-minute change to the playoff format, it seems unlikely anyone from that trio will be in line to face Portland in the first round.

Hughes notes that the Blazers have won against the Thunder in spite of below-average shooting from deep ... recent events in Dallas and Memphis notwithstanding. The assumption is the Blazers would shoot better in the playoffs than the 33.6 percent average Portland has shot from deep against Oklahoma City this year.

From the opposite perspective, Portland also appears as the best opponent for the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Utah Jazz. When it comes to Minnesota, it’s Karl-Anthony Towns that might cause the Blazers the most difficulty:

Minnesota split the season series with Portland at two games apiece, and Towns’ perimeter game could pull Jusuf Nurkic away from the bucket. Nobody holds opponents to a lower field-goal percentage at the rim than Portland (by a significant margin), so anything that gets Nurkic out of the lane disrupts much of what the Blazers like to do on that end.

For Utah, it’s the Rudy Gobert that could cause the Blazers some problems:

Schematically, Gobert’s presence in the lane should disrupt the Blazers’ drive-and-kick game. When he’s in there, help defense doesn’t have to come off shooters in the corners, and that means Portland’s guards will either have to finish over the league’s most fearsome paint protector or fling up floaters.

Go read the full article for everything that Hughes has to say about the Blazers and all of the other likely playoff teams.

And Brian Freeman here at Blazer’s Edge recently made his case for three teams the Blazers should want to avoid, and four teams they should want to face in the first round.