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Portland Trail Blazers at Oklahoma City Thunder Preview

The Blazers will try for their second quality Western Conference road victory in a row against the Thunder.

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NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Portland Trail Blazers Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (29-19) at Oklahoma City Thunder (28-18)

January 22nd, 2019 - 5:00 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: None
Thunder injuries: Alex Abrines (out), Patrick Patterson (questionable)
How to watch on TV: NBCSNW, NBA TV
How to stream: YouTube Live TV, Playstation Vue, Hulu Live TV, FuboTV
Radio: 620 AM
SBN Affiliate: Welcome to Loud City

The Portland Trail Blazers are on the second of a road back-to-back against the third place Oklahoma City Thunder. With a win, the Blazers would take over third place and would even up the season series at 1-1. The Blazers are coming off a solid win at Utah, winning the third and fourth quarters to walk away 109-104 winners.

The Oklahoma City Thunder are also on a back-to-back, but theirs is of the away-home variety. On Monday, the Thunder defeated the New York Knicks by a score of 127-109 at Madison Square Garden for their second consecutive win. Oklahoma City’s recent play however is mostly indifferent, winning only three of their last eight games, including a home loss to the Washington Wizards and a road loss to the Atlanta Hawks.

Last time these two teams met was January 4 at Moda Center. The Thunder won a squeaker, 111-109, with Paul George leading the Thunder effort with 37 points.

What to watch for

  • The Blazers encouraging Russell Westbrook to shoot the long ball. Make no mistake, Westbrook is still a star, can still dominate games and is a triple-double threat every time he steps on the court. He is also the team’s leading rebounder(!). What he isn’t doing well this season is shooting from deep. While his lifetime average of 30.6% from three is poor, he is currently shooting an abysmal 23.9%. Nevertheless, he is still attempting 4.9 per game, the second most of any season in his career. If you see Westbrook lining up behind the three-point line, give him some space and get ready to rebound.
  • Which team will shake off the effects of travel better? The Thunder are on their fifth game in eight days with thousands of miles of travel mixed in: a game in Atlanta followed by a home game followed by a Philly/New York Swing before returning to Oklahoma City on the second night of a back-to-back to face the Blazers. Of course, Portland is also on the second night of a back-to-back, arriving into town late from high-altitude Salt Lake City. Whoever can muster up the energy will have the inside track in this one.
  • Great rebounding from both teams. The Blazers and Thunder are tied for second place in the NBA in rebounds per game. Oklahoma City are number one in the league when it comes to offensive rebounds. Advanced rebounding stats give the Blazers the edge in overall rebounds but the Thunder are better once again at cleaning up on the offensive glass. The Blazers need to be sure to keep Oklahoma City from getting second-chance points if they want to give themselves the best chance to win.

What they’re saying

Opposing teams have been hurting the Thunder from beyond the 3-point line, but Madie Love of the Oklahoman writes that a focus on defending against the three is starting to show results:

Finally 3-point coverage wasn’t a pitfall for the Thunder. In a stretch of five losses in six games leading into Saturday, Thunder opponents shot 43.1 percent from 3-point range. Before Jan. 6, OKC opponents were shooting 33.5 percent from beyond the arc.

“It’s a huge jump,” Donovan said. “When you have teams that are taking 30-plus or they’re making 18-of-19 3s, you’ve got to have urgency to get out there.”

Is Terrance Ferguson the 3-and-D wing the Thunder have been waiting for? Ben Mertens of Welcome to Loud City says he just might be:

With a core of Steven Adams, Paul George, and Russell Westbrook, the Thunder have one of the highest ceilings in the NBA. But just as in the days of the Westbrook-Durant-Ibaka core, the Thunder have long-felt to be one 3-and-D wing short. Terrance Ferguson was the latest draftee in a long list of attempts to find that wing- but wonder of wonders, he has looked very much like the wing OKC has been dreaming of recently.

Is it possible to describe being the stages of being a Russell Westbrook fan? Brian Phillips of the Ringer tries:

Being a Russell Westbrook fan is the emotional equivalent of playing basketball like Russell Westbrook—it’s spectacularly difficult, it takes willpower and imagination, it hurts, and if you’re not actually doing it, you probably can’t understand why anyone would try. When you are doing it, though, it seems to ... not make sense, exactly, but reflect a kind of higher logic, detached from the utilitarian logic of the game. Westbrook is one of the most frustrating players in the NBA, and quite possibly one of the most frustrating human beings in the universe, but for the true Westbrook fan, his shortcomings are merely the obstacles against which our greatness must test itself—the 10-foot rims and help defenses of the spirit.