The Portland Trail Blazers’ opening round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder will generate a plethora of entertaining storylines, but the battle between Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook is set to rise to the top. Lillard, who is the clear leader for the Blazers must find a way to consistently out-duel his counterpart on the Thunder.
In the lead up to Sunday’s game, Sports Illustrated’s Jeremy Woo detailed all the must-watch storylines set to unfold in the opening round. Unsurprisingly, Woo listed the Lillard-Westbrook matchup.
This series pits two teams with a history of not liking one another very much, beginning with their star point guards, who have verbally sparred on many an occasion. All of that lends itself to games that are frequently tight, competitive and physical, and while the Thunder actually swept the Blazers in four regular-season meetings, all of those games were close. Now, there’s even more on the line. Granted, notable instigator Jusuf Nurkic will miss the playoffs recovering from injury. But the Westbrook/Lillard battles offer plenty to unpack, pitting two of the league’s most prolific backcourt players, both of whom love big moments, against each other in a high-stakes setting. The Blazers have hit a continuum with Terry Stotts and their personnel, while the Thunder have yet to win a playoff series without Kevin Durant, and have more to prove. These teams, and their stars, are desperate to get out of the first round. Only one can go on.
Sunday will mark Lillard’s sixth trip to the postseason since being drafted with the No. 6 pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. In 80 regular season, the former Weber State star recorded 25.8 points and 6.9 assists per game. If the Blazers are to advance past the Thunder, they will need Lillard to be at his best.
You can read Woo’s complete post by visiting Sports Illustrated.