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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder Preview

The Blazers lead off against the Thunder on the first night of a home back-to-back.

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NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Oklahoma City Thunder Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Portland Trail Blazers (22-16) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (24-13)

January 4 - 7:30 p.m. PT
Blazers injuries: None
Thunder injuries: Alex Abrines (out), Andre Roberson (out)
How to watch on TV: ESPN, NBCSNW
How to stream: YouTube Live TV, Playstation Vue, Hulu Live TV, FuboTV
Radio: 620 AM
SBN Affiliate: Welcome to Loud City

The Trail Blazers come home hot off of a victory over the Sacramento Kings in which center Jusuf Nurkic had a historic 20/20 5x5 (24 points, 23 rebounds, 7 assists, 5 steals, 5 blocks). The team struggled to maintain momentum against the Kings, who caught up in the fourth quarter. Late-game heroics from Damian Lillard forced overtime to clinch the win. Seth Curry also came up big for the Blazers off the bench scoring 18 points against the Kings.

The Oklahoma City Thunder arrive in Portland after a win against the Los Angeles Lakers. Paul George, who has entered the MVP conversation, scored 37 points and Russell Westbrook put up 14 points, 16 rebounds, and 10 assists. Westbrook has struggled with shooting lately (he was 3-20 on Wednesday), however the chemistry between him and Paul George has the Thunder heating up. The Thunder have the best defensive rating in the league, have won seven of their last ten games and sit at number three in the Western Conference.

What to watch for

  • Run the offense through Nurkic. Over the season, Nurkic is averaging 41.5 passes per game. Over the last four games he has increased that number to an eye-popping 55. When Nurkic is passing, particularly from down low, the offense hums. It has been a while since Nurkic squared up against a center approaching his size, so whether he can keep this up against Steven Adams will be a good test.
  • Keep the foot on the gas. The Kings caught up to the Blazers in the fourth quarter, and the Thunder overwhelmed the Lakers in the fourth, too. The Blazers cannot afford to let the momentum of the game get away from them. They need to control the pace of play and keep the tempo up down the stretch.
  • Damian Lillard vs. Russell Westbrook. Lillard leads 11-8 in head-to-head matchups against Westbrook including wins in the last five games. Westbrook hasn’t won in Portland since 2013. If the crowd is into the game early and Westbrook struggles to keep his composure (he has 11 technical fouls this season), it could do a lot to dictate the flow of the game.

What they’re saying

Royce Young of ESPN discusses how Paul George let his play speak for him in the win over Los Angeles:

But George picked the Thunder in free agency last summer without so much as granting a meeting with Magic Johnson and the Lakers, so those cheers turned to boos Wednesday every time he touched the ball. There was a chant of “We don’t need you!” as he shot free throws in the fourth quarter.

George downplayed the reaction, staying true to form with a response about admiring the Lakers and their fans. He said he took the fans’ reaction as a sign of respect.

Over at Welcome to Loud City, Ali AlShuwaikh dissects Westbrook’s ongoing offensive struggles this season:

There have been times where Westbrook was completely absent offensively, forcing George and the bench managed [sic] to win games in spite of Westbrook’s shooting. This is not a sustainable playoff formula. Westbrook and George are the two main offensive pillars on the team. Westbrook has an enormous role offensively but he is unfortunately not living up to his role to date, which over time will put a lot of pressure on everyone else.

According to the New Zealand Herald, everyone’s favorite Thunder player, Steven Adams, is as sweet as you think he is, accepting a young fan’s gift at the Thunders’ Holiday Assist program:

And while Adams expected to be the one to make the young fan’s day, the fan did the same for him.

”He’s taken me somewhere in the shop where no toys were really and then he told me to stop, wait here and I couldn’t follow him, and then he got me a little gift card and came back,” Adams explained. “It hurt my heart, mate; hurt my heart. Yeah, it felt good.”

Adams even had the young fan, named Cody, sign the gift card for him.