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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder Preview

Five wins in a row is there for the Blazers with a solid performance against the Thunder.

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

Portland Trail Blazers (16-10) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (11-15)

The Portland Trail Blazers are officially hot. Winners of four in a row and six out of the last seven, Portland finds itself rather comfortably in fifth place in the West. On Sunday, the Blazers fought against the Dallas Mavericks and a host of questionable whistles before coming away 121-118 winners in Dallas. The Oklahoma City Thunder on the other hand aren’t looking much like a contender for the expanded playoffs this season.They’ve only won once in their last four games, and that win was a very surprising 114-109 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks.

Tuesday, February 16 - 5:00 p.m. PT
How to watch on TV: NBCSNW, League Pass, or see games all season on fuboTV
Blazers injuries: Zach Collins (out), CJ McCollum (out), Jusuf Nurkic (out), Rodney Hood (out), Harry Giles (out)
Thunder injuries: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (out), George Hill (out), Trevor Ariza (out - personal)
SBN Affiliate: Welcome To Loud City

What To Watch For

  • A scrappy and unpredictable opponent for the Blazers. The Thunder are surely not going anywhere this year, and injuries and health and safety protocols means that the Thunder might not have a recognized point guard to play against the Blazers. That hasn’t stopped Oklahoma City from making life difficult for much better opponents. Besides beating the Bucks in recent days, they almost shocked both the Nuggets and the Lakers (twice!) in the three games before the win against the Bucks.
  • Balanced attack from the Thunder. Against the Bucks the Thunder had all five starters in double figures and racked up 32 assists. Their ball movement and unselfishness could be a problem for Portland. Oklahoma City will almost certainly get more dimes than the Blazers, who could only muster 15 in their win over the Dallas Mavericks and haven’t had as many as 20 since January.
  • Small Ball. With Harry Giles ruled out it’s going to have to be a small ball lineup when Enes Kanter isn’t on the floor for Portland. Against the Thunder that might not work out too badly. Lined up against Kanter will be 6’9” Al Horford, while 6’10” Mike Muscala will get minutes in the paint with the second unit. Kanter shouldn’t have any problem putting in his usual high-energy shift against Horford, while Muscala isn’t a huge threat to dominate the paint, averaging just .3 blocks 3.2 rebounds per game.

What Others Are Saying

Lu Dort is a all-time defensive ace writes Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman:

When LeBron James held the ball in the corner, the game on the line in the final 20 seconds and the Lakers up one, Dort locked in with a stare that would give most pros the shivers. Maybe even LeBron. Think Jack Nicholson in “The Shining.”

Dort stuck out his hand, fingers spread, in LeBron’s face, later explaining that LeBron is such a good passer, Dort figured anything to impede his vision would help. LeBron responded to the stare by blinking. He didn’t drive on Dort; he lofted a 21-foot stepback air ball, which gave OKC one last chance to win.

Dan Favale of Bleacher Report writes that George Hill may be injured, but he’ll still be in demand at the trade deadline:

Interest in his services is bound to be rampant. Everything he does is scalable to different situations. He provides a defensive punch versus both backcourt spots, and his offense is founded around large doses of spot-up threes and opportunistic drives.

Already in what was always likely to be a rebuilding year, injuries and other circumstances means that the Thunder are getting a good look at their young talent according to Trey Hunter of Welcome to Loud City:

Such a rash of injuries, protocol requirements, and roster movements might derail a team, even if the goal isn’t necessarily to win a championship.

One big difference for Mark Daignault and his staff, however, is that the Thunder’s unfortunate circumstances have offered welcome research into some of their young, evolving players.