Portland Trail Blazers (27-28) vs Oklahoma City Thunder (26-28)
In their first game after the NBA Trade Deadline, the Portland Trail Blazers take on the Oklahoma City Thunder tonight at the Moda Center, the third game of a five-game home stand.
After all the excitement (and monotony) of the deadline, Portland’s 125-122 win over the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday feels like ages ago. The win was another sign of marginal improvement for the Blazers as of late, winners of four of their last six and creeping up to 10th in the Western Conference. Now with Josh Hart and Gary Payton II out of town, it’ll be interesting to see if the Blazers can keep that small momentum building.
Oklahoma City is two spots back of Portland at 12th in the conference and steady at 5-5 in their last 10 games, a stretch that includes wins over the Los Angeles Lakers, Cleveland Cavaliers and Denver Nuggets. Standout guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continues to light up the scoreboard during a career-year.
The last time these two teams met back in December, OKC beat Portland in back-to-back close games, a pivotal stretch that helped pushed this Blazers season wayward. Now Portland gets a shot at revenge.
Thunder vs. Trail Blazers - Friday, February 10 - 7:00 p.m. PT
How to watch on TV: Root Sports Plus, NBA League Pass
Blazers injuries: Justise Winslow (out), Ibou Badji (out), Jusuf Nurkic (out), Keon Johnson (questionable), Ryan Arcidiacono, (day-to-day), Cam Reddish, (day-to-day), Matisse Thybulle (day-to-day), Kevin Knox (day-to-day)
Thunder injuries: Aleksej Pokusevski (out), Chet Holgrem (out), Luguentz Dort (questionable), Eugene Omoruyi (day-to-day)
SBN Affiliate: Welcome to Loud City
What To Watch For
Energy Level. For all intents and purposes — barring a magical Cinderella run — the Blazers punted on the 2022-23 season at the trade deadline. The Blazers, on paper, got a little worse on the court, while conference foes like the Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks and Lakers made aggressive moves that likely push them ahead of the crowded Western Conference middle. The West, seemingly wide open 48 hours ago, is treacherous once again. How does the team feel about what went down? Players’ energy level and effort tonight will be a good indicator of how the locker room is feeling. Will the Blazers come out loose and motivated, ready for a playoff push? Or will they come out flat and uninspired, at the very least suffering from some momentary shock? Let’s see which Blazers take the floor.
Little and Sharpe. Two players I expect won’t suffer from a post-deadline hangover are Portland forwards Nassir Little and Shaedon Sharpe. With Hart and GP2 gone, boatloads of minutes just opened up for the duo. That’s especially true tonight with the chance that none of the trade returns are in uniform yet. With Hart taken out of the lineup prior to tip-off against the Warriors, Little responded to 26 minutes of playing time with a decent 9 points and 5 rebounds on 4-6 shooting from the field. Now expected to start tonight, can he step it up more? Sharpe responded to the trade news on Wednesday with one of his most aggressive games as a Blazer. He put up 13 points and 7 rebounds on 5-7 shooting from the field in 22 minutes. A larger runway has been cleared for the prized rookie. His development over the final third of the season and whether he can take a more assured step as a pro is one of the major remaining storylines for Portland.
Dame vs. Shai. Tonight’s matchup features a showdown between two Western Conference All-Star guards in Damian Lillard and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. The last time these squads met, Gilgeous-Alexander got the better of Lillard, looking unstoppable in back-to-back wins. Gilgeous-Alexander scored a combined 62 points between the two games on 41.8 percent shooting from the field, while also hitting the game-winning buzzer-beater in the Dec. 19 meeting. That shot rained on the parade of Lillard eclipsing the Blazers’ all-time franchise scoring record earlier in the game. Then in the following matchup, Lillard slumped, scoring just 16 points on 6-19 gunning. What will tonight’s duel bring? Lillard’s been a different beast lately, earning back-to-back Player of the Week honors, but Gilgeous-Alexander hasn’t been too shabby either, scoring at least 30 points in seven of his last nine games. Get your popcorn ready.
What Others Are Saying
J.D. Taylor of Welcome to Loud City writes about how Thunder rookie center Jaylin Williams is becoming a legitimate threat in the pick-and-roll.
Pick and roll play is a dance between two individuals and already, J-Will is good at spotting his partner’s cues. He understands when the playmaker wants to drive or when they want to fake, he then understands that his job to land some sort of blow on the opposition.
In the last few weeks, we have seen the Thunder experiment with Williams as a passer more often with good results. Jaylin’s handle and court vision is good enough for him to exploit short rolls situations. A quick pass by J-Dub into J-Will usually opens up a world of possibilities for the former Razorback.
Williams can dribble and manoeuvre himself into positions where he can finish with a floater over the larger defender. He also has the presence of mind to find cutters or open shooters in the corner once the defense collapses on his move to the basket. His processing speed as a passer allows Williams to deliver the ball to his teammate when they have ample space to knock down a shot.
Thunder forward Kenrich Williams will go down in history as the player LeBron James scored on to break the NBA all-time scoring record. In a piece by The Athletic’s Eric Nehm, Williams talks about why he’s not upset about the moment.
“OK, that’s what’s up,” Williams said excitedly. “I told my wife you can take it two ways, you know? You hold him under what he needed to score — what was it, 36? — or you can be a part of history. So, I guess I’m always looking at the positives. I’m a part of history.”
But speaking with Williams further, this was not an example of him being happy people might remember him or excitement over being a fun trivia answer 20 years from now. This was Williams knowing that he fondly would be able to remember their competition on this historic night.