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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder Preview

The Blazers are back in action tonight against the Thunder.

Oklahoma City Thunder v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Cameron Browne/NBAE via Getty Images

The Portland Trail Blazers are ripe off of winning four of their last five games, and will enjoy the fourth game of their six-game road trip against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Oklahoma City is a respectable 7-7 at home, and recently broke a five-game losing streak with a pivotal 115-109 win against the conference-leading Memphis Grizzlies. On the other side of the token, Portland is an impressive 10-7 on the road, and looking to establish a new winning streak.

This will be the first matchup of the season between the Thunder and the Blazers. Rip City is 4-7 against OKC in the post-Russell Westbrook era dating back to the 2019-20 season, including dropping all four games against the Shai Gilgeous-Alexander-led team in 2021-22.

Trail Blazers vs. Thunder — Monday, December 19, 5:00 p.m. PT

How to Watch — Root Sports Plus, Bally Sports Oklahoma, NBA League Pass

Blazers Injuries — Jerami Grant (game time decision), Jusuf Nurkic (game time decision), Josh Hart (game time decision), Gary Payton II (out), Nassir Little (out)

Thunder Injuries — Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (out), Josh Giddey (out), Darius Bazley (out), Ousmane Dieng (out), Chet Holmgren (out for season), Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (out), Tre Mann (out - G League assignment), Jaylin Williams (out - G League assignment)

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What to Watch For:

  • Win the Paint Battle: Oklahoma City is not a team to be taken lightly on the interior. They boast 55.4 points per game inside — the fourth-highest scoring team in that category. Without Gilgeous-Alexander and Giddey, who are No. 5 and No. 27 in the league in individual paint points per game respectively, Portland will have some rest from high volume slashers. However, the rest of the team has earned that fourth spot in the league for a reason. They are to be taken seriously regardless of who is out on the floor. As for the Blazers, no Chet Holmgren on the floor gives free range for post-ups and bully ball inside against the No. 25 paint defense. Nurkic’s availability is up in the air, but Drew Eubanks has shown an ability to make quick decisions out of the post, with a proficient jump hook and a surprise skyhook. If Portland can own the paint on defense and offense, they will not only open up the floor for shooters, but they’ll also frequent the free throw line more often in this one.
  • Keep Doing What You’re Doing From 3: The NBA’s most efficient 3-point shooting team is none other than Rip City’s finest. Look for head coach Chauncey Billups to implement more creative schemes to free up his shooters. Portland has found success with dribble hand-offs on the wings, as well as pin downs inside 20 feet. OKC is a youthful team with fresh legs and lengthy, position less players — i.e. Aleksej Pokusevski — so the Blazers will need to be extra sharp coming off screens and picking their spots. Their efficiency numbers, coupled with their volume, prove to be on their side. After all, Oklahoma City is the No. 20 ranked 3-point defense so things should run rather smoothly.
  • Take Care of the Rock: The Thunder force the second-most turnovers in the association, at 16.8 giveaways per game. They complement their stout defense with the second-most points off turnovers in the league, at 20.3 points per game, and do solidly in the fast break. Why is this important? Because Portland is tenth-worst in turnovers league wide. Granted Portland can control these three areas of the game, this will fashion to be an easy dub for Lillard and the Blazers, who could also witness history be made on the selfsame night by way of their all-time great point guard.

What Others are Saying

Lillard entered Saturday’s game with 17,995 points, just 46 points behind Clyde Drexler for the most points scored in franchise history. And while Lillard is more than capable of putting up those kinds of numbers, the second night of a back-to-back in a game in which Portland led by as many as 22 points in the second half didn’t provide a strong opportunity to finally claim the top spot on the scoring ledger.

“He’s not going to do it just to do it,” said Billups. “It’s going to come the right way, playing the right type of ball. Barring anything crazy happening it’s going to be very soon the way he’s playing. He’s playing at an extremely high level.”

The Thunder needed players to step up, and that’s what they got. Lu Dort stepped into the main leadership role in place of SGA. Dort ended with 24 points and seven rebounds to lead OKC.

Isaiah Joe had his best game in an OKC uniform scoring 23 points and knocking down five 3-point shots to help OKC to a 115-109 upset win over Memphis.

To help ease the lopsided game in terms of availability Morant was ejected prior to halftime in part to a debated call. He finished with just six points.

Oklahoma City saw five players score in double figures despite missing its MVP candidate along with all 11 players who recorded minutes scored.