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Portland Trail Blazers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder Preview

Can the Blazers get a win at home?

Portland Trail Blazers v Oklahoma City Thunder Photo by Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images

Portland Trail Blazers (21-31) vs Oklahoma City Thunder (16-34)

After dropping the final three games of a four game road trip, the Portland Trail Blazers return home for a shot at redemption tonight against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

This will be the second meeting this week between the two teams. On Monday night, the NBA Draft Lottery-bound Thunder clocked the Blazers 98-81, as Portland shot 18.4% from behind the arc in a dispirited effort. The blowout loss possibly marked the lowest point of Portland’s reeling season.

After Monday’s contest, both teams were back in action Wednesday night. OKC kept its good mojo going with a 120-114 overtime win against the Dallas Mavericks. The Blazers continued their slide with a 99-94 loss against the Los Angeles Lakers in what our own Dave Deckard described as a “duel of awfulness.” A fourth straight loss tonight — and second consecutive loss in five days to the 16-34 Thunder — would remind everybody that rock bottom is often lower than imagined.

Friday, February 4 - 7:00 p.m. PT
How to watch on TV: Root Sports NW, NBA League Pass
Blazers injuries: Damian Lillard (out), Cody Zeller (out), Nassir Little (out), Larry Nance Jr. (questionable), Trendon Watford (questionable), CJ Elleby (probable)
Thunder injuries: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (out), Vit Krejci (out), Aaron Wiggins (out), Isaiah Roby (out), Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (out)
SBN Affiliate: Welcome to Loud City

What To Watch For

The Kids are Alright Oklahoma City is one of the youngest teams in the NBA with an average age of 23.4. Rookie Josh Giddey has played solid all season, stuffing the stat sheet with 11.7 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 6.2 assists. Rookie Tre Mann has only averaged 7.8 points this season but has come alive lately. The 21-year-old guard knocked down six three-pointers in Wednesday’s overtime victory against Dallas on his way to a career-high 29 points. Mann and the Thunder may be inexperienced, but they should come into Moda Center stoked with confidence. A gutsy overtime win is great for team morale and they handled this same Portland team five days ago. After amassing losses, OKC has a chance to win three games in a row for just the second time this season. Look for the Thunder to play hard, passionate basketball against a downward-trending Portland squad.

CHA-LU-PAS The Blazers are in an offensive funk. In the last two games, Portland has failed to reach 100 points, while shooting a combined 38.9% from the field and 25.9% from three-point land. If Portland doesn’t score 100 points tonight, the team will hit a rare low point in offensive production. You’d have to go all the way back to December 2017 to find the last time Portland failed to reach 100 points in three consecutive games. Yes, the Blazers are without offensive juggernaut Damian Lillard, but CJ McCollum, Norman Powell, Anfernee Simons, and Jusuf Nurkic should provide enough firepower to keep such a milestone from happening. If the Blazers put up triple digits tonight, they won’t win everybody free Taco Bell vouchers, but they will likely win the game. Oklahoma City scores the lowest points per game of any team in the league at 101.1.

NBA Audition During a season in which the Blazers sit 10 games below .500, fans must resort to enjoying other elements of the game besides wins and losses. One of these “games within the game” is seeing how young talent pans out. The season-ending injury to Portland small forward Nassir Little created opportunity for one young player in particular — second-year pro CJ Elleby. Elleby is on the final year of his two-year contract and hasn’t proven he’s a rotation-caliber player in the NBA. Unless Portland trades for players who pass up Elleby on the depth chart, he should receive plenty of minutes in the next few months to prove why he deserves a second contract. In his first game back after missing three games due to injury, Elleby tallied two points and three rebounds Wednesday against the Lakers. Let’s see if he can get it going tonight against younger competition.

What Others Are Saying

The Thunder have plenty of assets they can use to reshape their roster. Forbes’ Writer Nick Crain makes the case why Oklahoma City must use those assets to acquire more shooting.

With a record amount of draft capital, cap flexibility and a fairly positionless core of young talent, the future is extremely bright in Oklahoma City. With that in mind, one thing the Thunder will really need to prioritize as the roster is rebuilt going forward is 3-point shooting.

To this point in the season, the Thunder are the worst 3-point shooting team in the NBA. Knocking down just 31.1% of their attempts from beyond the arc, those struggles have been a key reason the young team has lost so many games.

OKC is stacked with draft picks for the future, but Bleacher Report’s Grant Hughes writes the Thunder should attempt to hoard more picks before the NBA trade deadline.

If they’re inclined, the Thunder have several options for pick pursuit. They’re $23 million below the salary floor, for starters, which means they can take back undesirable contracts with draft assets attached.

If the Clippers want to dump Serge Ibaka, for instance, OKC should listen. Similarly, if the contending Phoenix Suns or Cleveland Cavaliers want to clear roster spots and cash, the Thunder could take in injured players like Dario Saric or Ricky Rubio (with picks attached), sending back cheaper contracts or heavily protected second-rounders.

Giddey had a solid performance Monday against the Blazers, registering 14 points and 12 rebounds. CBS Sports writer Jack Maloney writes about an impressive milestone the 19-year-old Aussie reached during the 98-81 win.

In the process, he made a bit of history. Along with setting the Thunder’s rookie record for double-doubles in a season (11), Giddey became the youngest player since LeBron James to have 500 points, 200 rebounds and 200 assists through their first 45 games. He’s also just the fourth teenager ever to reach those benchmarks in 45 games. The others are Luka Doncic and LaMelo Ball.